June 4, 2018 | Careers + Retirement

The Hidden Expenses of Graduate School

While the cost of graduate school is highly variable, there’s one clear trend (…up) when it comes to attending: tuition and fees at private National Universities have increased by 157 percent over the last 20 years.

Even if you’ve done your due diligence and secured financial assistance to help pay for your admission into graduate school, be sure you are aware of the costs that may not necessarily appear as line items on your tuition bill. Let’s take a closer look at some of the hidden expenses:

  • Online course fees: In some cases, it can be more expensive to opt in for online classes and labs than it is to attend traditional classes or lectures. If you’ve allotted a certain amount of your student loans to take a class and then switch to the online offering, or have to sign up for a lab, you may end up having to pay the difference out of pocket. The same is often true with career-specific certifications that you’ll need to obtain outside the classroom.
  • Transportation: Getting to and from campus every day is an often overlooked factor when planning to attend grad school. Some schools require students to purchase parking permits to drive onto campus. Other students will opt for public transportation. Either way, it’s an expense you’ll need to consider as you explore schools and look for housing.
  • Minimum credit requirements: Obtaining a student loan often comes with minimum credit requirements. If you qualify for enough assistance to cover four credits, but you lose funding unless you take six credits per semester, you’ll need to make up the difference or risk losing aid.
  • Books and supplies: Once you sign up for classes, you’ll also need to shell out extra money for books and supplies. This can add a significant price hike to the overall cost. The Cornell Graduate School, for instance, estimates that students should allocate about $1,330 for books and supplies per year. And this is a low estimate. Certain programs, like art and architecture, can be highly resource-intensive.
  • Social activities: You’re not just going to graduate school for a degree. You’re also going to network and socialize, and discover new opportunities, which can require capital. Short-sighted financial planning could leave you sitting at home after class due to a lack of money, when classmates are making important connections and brainstorming future plans. International students, it should be noted, should put aside extra funds for domestic trips.

Managing unforeseen expenses

Though you’re likely to encounter unforeseen expenses as a graduate student, that doesn’t mean you should be dissuaded. Think instead about overcoming these challenges as a graduate-level course in financial planning. Here are a few suggestions to manage unforeseen expenses:

  • Consult with a financial planner: Financial planners have ample experience helping individuals achieve their goals on strict budgets. It can be helpful to develop a relationship with a financial planner to help you get a fresh, outside perspective to keep you on the right track. Be sure your financial planner has a firm understanding of your wants, needs, and financial limitations.
  • Explore a private student loan: Diversification is key in all facets of financial planning. The same may be true for your grad school planning. Take advantage of federal student loans as best you can, but don’t be afraid to explore the potential of private student loans. Many lenders will offer unique student benefits that may fill the gaps in your financial planning.
  • Seek out an advisory role: Some graduate students are required to do field research under the guidance of their professors in order to complete their program. Others are given an opportunity to fill a teaching assistant role. In many cases, grad students are given a stipend for this work, which could help you to put away extra money every week to be proactive about unforeseen expenses.

Instilling a sound financial strategy, will help to ensure you are able to fund your education without sacrificing either quality of life or your credit score. Though you’re likely to get a few surprises throughout your time in graduate school, remember: you didn’t sign up because it was the easy thing to do. You did it because you know the importance of investing in your education and your future.

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