Financing your Degree

Paying for a graduate or professional degree program is always a concern although it generally is a good investment. An advanced degree will allow you to enter careers and apply for jobs that you would not have been able to access without specific graduate education and training. When you receive an acceptance letter, celebrate! If you have applied to more than one program (which is advised and generally the case), you will want to wait to hear from all your possibilities before you make any decisions. Each program will offer different kinds of financing and you will need to consider your options carefully.

Most students receive some kind of funding and that package can be based on need or merit. An offer of funding often comes separately from the admissions letter and it may be a straight cash award that you can use for tuition and/or living expenses. Or you may receive funding as tuition remission, or you could receive a combination of both. Offers of teaching and research assistantships are considered financial awards, but remember that they are also commitments of employment. Generally, with this kind of award, your tuition will be covered, you will be required to work a designated number of hours and you will also receive a small stipend to cover living expenses. 

When you are deciding what option is best, asking questions about additional financial resources is a good idea. You may be able to apply for other university fellowships after your first year of graduate school or be able to apply for other teaching or research positions. Most programs will not cover your entire costs but you will also be eligible for loans. And unfortunately, loans are sometimes the only type of financing that a program offers.  

Once you have received notification from all the programs to which you have applied, you can compare offers and your decision might be based on trade-offs.  One program might offer you more funding with a long-term research assistantship while another program offers you a straight cash award but just for the first semester. You will have to carefully consider your options and decide where you think you will have the best opportunity for success and what kind of financial assistance best fits with your circumstances. Another cost to consider is re-location and travel, particularly if you are moving away from a primary social network in order to attend graduate school.

If you’ve received more than one acceptance, you may want to try and negotiate a different funding package at the program that is your #1 choice. US News and World Reports offers 5 Steps to Getting More from your Graduate School and Academia Stack Exchange offers some ideas about Negotiating your PhD Funding Offer. Veritas, a privately owned test prep and admissions consulting company offers The Guide to Graduate School Financial Aid.

There are also scholarship funds available outside the university although there is usually more financing for undergraduate students than for graduates. We have provided a partial listing of additional funding sources, including two general search engines and funding for specific populations. This is a free scholarship and financial aid resource with lots of information.

Open Education Database: OEDb is a comprehensive online education directory for both free and for-credit learning options. Their website has a searchable scholarship database.

Fostering Educational Opportunities Fund (FEOF): an organization with financial grants specifically for former foster youth pursuing a degree in higher education or advanced training.

Town and Gown of USC: This women’s organization at USC offers scholarships for students. The applications are open between August 1 and December 1.

Hispanic Fund: The HSE Scholarship is designed to assist students of Hispanic heritage obtain a college degree. Scholarships are available on a competitive basis to undergraduate and graduate students.

Chicana Latina Foundation: Non profit organization that promotes professional and leadership development of Latinas has a number of scholarships available. 

Scholly: This scholarship matching platform allows you to input your specific information — discipline, degree, gender, need or merit, as well as special interests — and then provides links to scholarship possibilities that meet those parameters. The service costs $44.99 per year, $29.99 per 6-months or $7.99 per month.

Another consideration when approaching the financial aspect of graduate and professional degrees are loan forgiveness programs. These programs release you from the obligation to repay part or all of your federal loan debt, but the programs are only available to those working in public service jobs and only the debt on certain kinds of loans is eligible. If you are planning to work in public service this is something you should know about.

Income Based Repayment Program

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program 

We help California’s former foster youth apply to graduate programs and professional schools by providing the knowledge each applicant needs to create a competitive application and succeed.

MAPS is a California non-profit