5 Ways to Reduce Your Graduate School Student Debt

06/04/2015 10:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2016

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By the time you get to graduate school, you may already find yourself in student loan debt. Financial aid will likely not cover all of you’re your expenses, but there are many other places to seek funding for graduate programs. While many students rely on student loans to get them through their post-secondary education there are also other ways to find the necessary money to complete their degree. Here are five ways to find financial aid for graduate school.

Student Loans

Both private and federal loans are available for graduate school studies. Here are the basic options available to you when you need a financial aid for graduate school:

  • Direct PLUS Loan: 6.84% interest rate (Loans first disbursed on or after 7/1/15 and before 7/1/16)
  • Perkins Loan: 5% interest rate for borrowers with exceptional financial need. Graduate students may borrow up to $8,000 per year.
  • Private Student Loans: Rates vary across lenders and offer fixed and variable rate loans.

Your financial aid options may vary by graduate school. Not all schools participate in the Federal Perkins Loan Program. If you did not receive enough federal funding, private student loans can help pay for additional expenses and living costs.

Forgiveness Programs

Once you complete your degree, several professions offer federal forgiveness options to help repay your debt. Some of these programs are offered on a state and school basis, so if you are interested in working in the public sector, check with your institution to see what options may be available to you. Check out Credible’s list of forgiveness programs by profession.

Scholarships, Grants and Fellowships

There are many scholarships specifically available for graduate school programs. Scholarships can be awarded with your financial aid package or as separate awards that can be used for any school you wish to attend. Also, do your research and apply to schools that are known for assisting their students with grants and scholarships.

Tuition Reimbursement

Certain employers offer some type of tuition reimbursement or tuition assistance programs. Find out if your employer offers tuition reimbursement and if you are looking for a job, weigh this compensation into your decision process.


Assistantships are programs that provide some or all of the funding needed for school while the student is working for the university in some capacity. This provides the student with funding for school and the university gets affordable teachers and researchers. Assistantships are most common in science with nearly half of all full-time candidates for master’s programs in science fields earn money through work as assistants. Assistantships are a great way to receive some funding and gain experience while obtaining a degree.

Tuition Waivers

While tuition waivers are less common than other forms of funding, but nearly 10% of all graduate students are eligible for a waiver for some or all of their tuition. There are various reasons that students can be eligible for tuition waivers. Some schools grant waivers for students who have served in the Peace Corps or the U.S. Military, students whose parents are employees or even for financial need. Check with the school you are applying with and with your state’s Department of Education to see if you qualify for a tuition waiver.  

Tips to Getting More Financial Aid for Graduate School:

  • Complete all student loan and scholarship documents correctly and on time. You don’t want yourself to be the reason why you missed out on financial aid for the upcoming academic year.
  • Negotiate with your school on scholarship amounts to get the most off your tuition.
  • Be proactive in seeking funds. The sooner you apply for financial aid the more likely you are to receive it.
  • Keep asking for assistance throughout the year. New scholarships and grants come in throughout the year and you may have better luck getting more financial aid in the middle of a semester.
  • Check into organizations that represent your ancestry, nationality or religious affiliation to see if they have scholarships available.

If you are leaving your job to return back to school and are still paying on your undergraduate loans, consider refinancing them while your income is strong. Some refinancing lenders will allow for an education deferment while you return to graduate school. If you are afraid of giving up your federal benefits, only your subsidized loans will not collect interest during graduate school. Rates are at market lows so see what offers and benefits you can get by refinancing your existing debt before returning for more.

To learn about your refinancing options, visit Credible