I dedicate this blog post to women who worry their student loan debt will prohibit them from reaching their professional dreams. According to a recent survey by Uchic, a lifestyle brand for young women, 67% of the female survey respondents they surveyed believe the high cost of education is holding them back. This number is significant in light of a recent study conducted by Georgetown University that estimates by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require post secondary education and training beyond high school. Given this Catch-22 young woman are asking themselves the fifty thousand dollar question — is it worth it?
For me, going to grad school was a no-brainer but that’s not to say I didn’t struggle with my decision. Earning a graduate degree from NYU was pricey. Going in, I knew two things: 1. I did not want to incur a single cent of debt, and 2. The 40 credits + commutation expenses would put my total cost for tuition well above the $50k benchmark. Another challenge I would consider: The longer I put off enrollment, the more expensive the price. Would the value of a Master’s Program be worth it? There was never a doubt in my mind that it was, but formulating a strategy to pay for it and staying the course required toughness, tenacity, and tactics.
I warn you, there are no CliffNotes, no shortcuts, no cramming your way through the sacrifices to execute these strategies. Keep in mind what worked for me, may or may not, work for you. The way I found success was to combine these tactics, as many as eight, at any given time.
- Maintain a high GPA. You must study do well to earn the highest GPA possible. The reason being is pretty simple. In order to qualify for fellowships and grants, outstanding class rank and test scores are requisites. For example, The Evalee C. Schwarz Charitable Trust for Education requires test scores be in the top 15% of nation-wide scores in order to receive a potential $5,000 – $15,000 award amount.
- Apply for fellowships. Grants. com and Scholly the app can provide a full list of available awards and grants. I guarantee there are hundreds you have never heard of. The tough part is in the application process which is very detailed and lengthy. You will need several hours if not days to gather all of the requirements. Apply early to set yourself up for success.
- Spread out your education. One course, the equivalent of three credits per semester, including summer and winter, helps with keeping pace of payments. Another huge benefit you may not have anticipated — eligibility for additional fellowship and grant monies over a longer period of time.
- Keep your day job. A steady stream helps a lot. Working your day job provides you with a predictable stream of income to set off expense not to mention it keeps you connected to your employer. This is absolutely vital if your boss is footing some of the bill via a tuition reimbursement plan at work. Never sever the additional benefits of employment such as employer match for 401(k), partial or full medical plan, fringe and paid benefits just for a degree. You may never get these benefits back from your next job.
- Negotiate tuition reimbursement with your employer. Applying new found skills at work can set the stage to negotiation a partial or full tuition reimbursement plan. Some employers want a high GPA in order to receive a benefit while others will place other strings attached, such as requiring employees to stay with the company a certain amount of time post-graduation.
- Use holiday bonus. You know that holiday bonus? Take it directly to the bursar’s office and use it for education expenses. Credit your account if necessary for the next semester and apply the full amount to your next bill.
- Add a side hustle, ideally work for your University. Many colleges and universities offer teacher assistant programs to graduate students in exchange for free classes. This is a win-win as you gain valuable work experience, grow your professional network, and offset educational expenses all together. Furthermore, your University may even offer a full-time role post-graduation. Related College Scorecard Makes the Grade
- Study in Europe for free, yes for free. Visit StudyPortals.com and search for a list of available Master’s Programs for free that teach also teach in English. University of Oslo in Norway for example offers degrees in Engineering, Business, and Health Economics, Policy and Management taught in English at no cost for American students.
- Frugal living and bad ass budgeting. A combination of frugal living on a very tight budget will help free up some much needed cash for book rentals, commutation expenses, and other variable educational expenses. Give up your daily latte at Starbucks and brown bag your dinner to add some bulk to your wallet.
- The American Opportunity Credit and The Lifetime Learning Credit. Take advantage of two education tax credits that can make higher education costs more affordable. The American opportunity tax credit, originally called the Hope scholarship credit, is a tax credit of up to $2,500 of the cost of tuition, fees and course materials paid during the taxable year. Also, 40% of the credit (up to $1,000) is refundable. This means you can get it even if you owe no tax. The Lifetime Learning Credit for 2014 is a tax credit of up to $2,000 credit per return, with income restrictions: $128,000 of married filed jointly and $64,000 if single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er). Be sure to check IRS.gov and the tax code, there are restrictions for each.
Let’s not sugarcoat it, getting out of grad school without debt is doable but certainly not easy. Ultimately, you have to ask yourself if you’re ready to bring you’re A game and will it be worth it? If you ask me, I say yes.
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