Oooh, I have strong opinions on this one. If I could give one piece of advice, it would be to not go to any undergraduate or graduate program that doesn’t offer you at least partial funding.
I know. It’s not available in all fields. (But check with a trusted peer: can I get funded for a Ph.D. in this field and drop to a master’s later? Are there scholarships in the school or elsewhere?).
Why seek funding:
- If they offer you funding, it’s a sign that the program is economically healthy enough to recruit their top students.
- If they offer you funding, it’s a sign that they consider you a desirable student and are invested in your success.
Where to get outside funding:
Of course, you can get outside funding too.
Ask your local research librarian or career counselor to help you research organizations that might give you scholarships for grad school.
The military, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Ford Foundation, National Science Foundation, and other groups may fund students of your religion, ethnic group, life situation, or career field. (The deadlines may be a year or two out, so apply early.)
And… since you’re applying early, find out if your employer offers any funding for grad school—or look to move to a comparable employer who does.
Also, if you’re going to a state school, see if you can work locally and get in-state status before you apply.
The benefits of funding:
- It reduces pressure and improves the chance you’ll stay in the program.
- It often leads to further funding, as it frees time for you to be one of the better students in your program, and looks good on your resume or CV.
- It’s a good indication that you’re competitive in your program or field, and likely to do well.
Questions to ask yourself and the program on funding:
- How many students apply here each year? How many are admitted?
- Of all admitted students, what percent are funded by the program or college?
- Are there ways to get living expenses covered in addition to tuition and fees?
- What funding would I be eligible for? (based on test scores, ancestry, income, helping with research or teaching, or other desirable trait)
- How likely is it that I will get fully funded? What would increase my chances, here or elsewhere?
- What outside funding (workplace, national foundation, sugar daddy, rich uncle, quirky scholarship) have you seen students get?
- How many students take out loans?
- How much do your students take out for tuition and living expenses?
- How many of those students get a well-paying job in the field right after graduation?
- Are there hidden costs (conference fees, memberships, research costs, or insurance) to be aware of?
- What is the cost of living in the area? Does funding cover that cost well?
- Can I work while attending school—and still do well enough to score an appropriate job afterwards?
- Will working during the summer or school year be enough to cover living expenses and tuition?
- (To self: Can I support my family while attending? What if I have an unexpected baby, my parents need help, or my partner gets laid off?)
- Are there better options for a similar career while paying less money or taking on less loans up front?
Please. I beg of you. Don’t go crazy in debt when hiring is being cut across most fields of work. Make sure that even if you don’t get into your field, you can make ends meet and still pay off that debt in a generic starter job (sales, store management, janitor, etc), as you work for free (ugh, internships!) to gain more experience on the side.
- For instance, the Debt Wizard will show that if you need to borrow $30,000 for a one-year program plus living expenses… you’ll need a salary of $52,000 annually for the next ten years to pay the loan off. Is that a fair starting salary and one you can maintain even if you have to move to another job? (For salaries as a librarian post-MLS, see my survey results and tips from recent grads here.)
- Or, if you know that people are lucky to get $40,000 a year as a counselor or artist, the wizard suggests you not borrow more than $23,000 for the bachelor’s or master’s that gets you into the field.
Share this with friends, and encourage each other to avoid burdening yourself or others in your life. And if the funding situation looks promising, check out some final reflections here.