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How to Attend the Best Graduate School for Your Buck

Posted by Shelly Quance on 7/11/16 7:30 AM

  July 11, 2016    


The quotable Benjamin Franklin once said that “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” Well, thanks Ben, but what if you don’t have the money to invest in knowledge in the first place?

If education is an asset you value, but you need some help getting there, check out these tips for attending the best college possible for your dollar.

Explore our informative digital resource page — A Guide to Financing Graduate  School!

Get Moving (or How to Obtain In-state Tuition)

If you’re dead set on leaving home and going far, far away, read on.

Out-of-state tuition for state schools can be very costly. (It can be up there with private school tuition.) In fact, the difference in 2015 and 2016 “between average in-state and out-of-state published tuition and fees ranges from $2,460 in South Dakota and $7,590 in Minnesota to $20,720 in Vermont and $21,090 in Michigan.”

Good for South Dakota. But if you weren’t planning on heading to the Mount Rushmore state, then you might want to consider obtaining residency in the state of your choice. If you’re willing to put off your education for a year or so to become more financially stable, this can be a smart move.

The key is to create an adequate paper trail: “Pay state income taxes, get a library card, register your car in the state, register to vote. Do all of the above, so there isn't anything to suggest you have ties to the other state.” Schools are extremely careful about vetting people to make sure that you aren’t working the system. So make sure that your whole life really is in the new state.

If your parents are in the military, make sure to check the school’s policy, because some will allow out-of-state military students to qualify for in-state tuition. There are even opportunities for in-state tuition at certain schools if you have exceptional academic performance, regardless of whether you took a gap year to attain residency.

But since many schools and states have differing standards for receiving in-state tuition, make it a priority to read up on each college’s policy, and if possible, talk to an admissions representative to find out the rules.  

Scholarships: For the Smart, the Athletic, and the Wacky

Have you ever heard the acronym TANSTAAFL? (We’re not joking; it’s a real acronym.) If not, it stands for There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Basically, you can’t get something for nothing, and while everyone hopes deep down that they’ll receive a letter extending a full ride to their top university choice, most people have to put in a fair amount of grunt work.

Scholarships are out there. But you need to do to the work to find them, and narrowing your search criteria can be difficult. There are plenty available for high academic achievement. If you excel in a particular area, you should find scholarships that zero in on your area of expertise.

Similarly, there are also plenty of athletic scholarships available, however, you might have more luck at a Division III school than a Division I school, since there’s less competition for the spots and the money.

But you already knew about money for sports and smarts. What you may not know is the wealth of scholarships out there for those with niche interests. For example, there is the Duct Tape Scholarship which offers you up to $10,000 for creating a prom outfit from duct tape. Or the Create A Greeting Card Scholarship which asks you to submit an original photo, a piece of your artwork, or computer graphics that could make a great greeting card.

If you’re willing to surf the web, fill out the forms, and sometimes write the short essays, you can seriously off-set the cost of tuition. For more scholarship categories, check out the Weird Scholarships Website.

Note: Scholarships are great for financing graduate school but can be especially useful for affording a private university.

FAFSA — Just Do It Already

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid can be a challenge to complete, but you should consider filling it out anyway. But keep in mind that some financial aid is given on a first-come, first-serve basis. So it will be given to the early birds if you don’t hop to it.

Be careful about the information you submit. Many people make errors on their FAFSA forms, and it can be to their detriment. One area that seems to befuddle people is countable assets. Things like “money in a retirement account won’t count against you, but money in a checking account will. Small family businesses also aren’t a counted asset, so don’t lose out on money by incorrectly including assets that should be uncounted.”

Fin Aid has a guide to (honestly) maximizing your aid eligibility based on a thorough understanding of how government aid is awarded. Their tips include saving money in the parents’ names rather than the child’s name and paying off credit card debt and auto loans to decrease available cash.

FAFSA is important not only for receiving federal aid but also for qualifying for other kinds of scholarships and grants. Plenty of scholarship programs want to see proof that you’ve utilized all available federal aid (even if that amounts to nothing) before they’ll consider you for their program. Furthermore, if you do ultimately need to take out student loans, you’ll qualify for low-interest ones (and even forgivable ones) if you’ve filled out the FAFSA.

Take Advantage of Your Resources

Too many people lose out on securing financial aid because they don’t know where to search for resources or because they don’t think a financial-aid plan fits their unique needs, but you don’t have to be that person. No matter your position, the potential for you to utilize the financial resources out there exists. Take the time to do the necessary research, put in the effort, and successfully finance the school of your dreams.

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Topics: Funding Your Graduate Education

Posted by Shelly Quance

Shelly Quance has spent almost 20 years working in higher education marketing communications. She currently serves as Director for West Virginia University’s Office of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment where she works collaboratively with College leadership to develop, implement, and evaluate creative and effective comprehensive communication and marketing plans to increase graduate student enrollment.


About the Blog

Deciding what graduate school to attend can be daunting at times, and navigating the admissions process can be that much more difficult. We hope to make the journey from considering graduate school to enrolling in a graduate program easier by publishing content that will be helpful to you as you discern if, when, and where, to pursue your next degree.

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