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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Grad Guide

Grad School: Financial aid options to ease the next step


Higher education conceptual image with graduation cap and tassel

Students are graduating college with just under $40,000 in debt. If you are going to graduate school it’s important that you understand all of your financial aid options.| File photo/The Cougar.

You made it.

That’s right, you finally graduated college after almost four years of ramen noodles, hard partying that turned into late-night cram sessions and fighting yourself to go to class.

What’s next?

Well, if you are part of the 3 million students currently enrolled in graduate school or plan to enroll in a post-baccalaureate program, you are going right back into the trenches. This time, however, you are a little bit wiser and with an average student loan debt of $37,172.

If you still want to go to school to get that extra leg up on a job market that is overcrowded with undergraduate degrees, here are some options to help you with financial aid.

Remember, graduate school at UH starts at just over $5,000 (12 credit hours) a year, depending on your residency status and hours taken. It’s important you know what you are getting into.

Graduate assistantships

If you are willing to go to class full-time while working, this program is perfect for graduate students ready to commit a lot of time to the university. These assistance programs pay a monthly stipend ranging from $600 to $2,500 during the school year.

Of course, you have to meet certain qualifications, but they are relatively easy for the amount of money you receive. The labor calls for administrative work like academic advising and reading papers. This is an easy way to make the school a workplace and vice versa.

Although assistantships can get stressful, they are better than going to school while working for an off-campus firm that may not be understanding if you have a project due the next day or a midterm.

Fellowship, scholarships and grants

These forms of financial aid help you avoid adding more student loan debt. They are also based on your academic record and community involvement.

Many people think that the University only offers scholarships to undergraduate students. This is a common misconception that is also applicable to scholarships offered by private organizations.

Graduate students can find many scholarship opportunities to ease their financial burden as they move into the next phase of their lives.

The biggest issue with scholarships is that it depends on the student; they must have the motivation to apply and follow through on any issues. As always, the opportunities are out there, it is just up to you to take advantage of them.

Doesn’t matter if you get a $100 scholarship from Coca-Cola and a $50 scholarship from Wendy’s, just collect as much money as possible before you have to get loans that accrue interest.

Loans

From the government to private companies, you will find countless locations willing to loan you money for college. It is up to you to decide if it is worth adding more money to your current student loan debt.

The government offers below-market interest rates on certain loans, graduate federal PLUS loans and unsubsidized loans for students who apply to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Although a loan can be bad, there is no excuse to not go to school if you are willing to take on the debt. Even loans from big banks and private companies can offer low interest rates — if they are your only option.

Be warned, however, since student loans can haunt you for the next 30 years of your life if you are careless. Consult as many financial aid officers and people as possible before you make the decision to add debt to your life. Many people focus solely on their post-college debt when what they should be doing is making themselves a fierce competitor in the job-seeking race.

Taking out a loan should be your last choice for graduate school, but often times it is the only one you have. Be careful.

FAFSA

This should go without saying, but make sure that you apply for FAFSA. So many opportunities for financial aid out there, and the biggest obstacle between you and money is your own effort to apply and find your options.

Throughout this process, remember that the only person that will make sure you have everything you need, like the right paperwork and patience, is yourself.

You are a college graduate and ready to conquer the world. Don’t let graduate school and its cost deter you from your ultimate goal. Figure out all your options, take advantage of the benefits you have earned and enjoy the next extra couple of years before you are thrown into the real world to fend for yourself.

Opinion editor Frank Campos is a media production senior and can be reached at [email protected]

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