Graduate Students

So you want to keep going to school?

Deciding to attend graduate or professional school is a big decision. Between preparing for entrance exams, paying tuition and preparing for the demands of post-secondary education, you have a lot to consider. One item that should not be avoided is the financial aspect of attending graduate or professional school. Heck, even the application procedure can be pricey!

Cost of entrance exams

  • GRE: $160
  • GMAT: $250
  • LSAT: $160
  • MCAT: $230

Application fee costs

Application fees vary by school and the specific college in which you are seeking a degree. For domestic applicants, fees can range from $50 to $175 depending on which school you are applying to; keep in mind these fees are non-refundable and there is often a small fee associated with transmitting your transcripts. The fees for international students are sometimes costlier than those applying within the U.S.

The medical school application process is unique and is costlier than someone who is seeking further education in say business or psychology. Most medical schools use the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Application Service which allows you to submit a single set of application materials to the school of your choice for $160 and a $31 fee for each additional school you apply to. The majority of medical schools require a secondary application which can range from $25 to $100.

Housing costs

Deciding where to live is an important factor considering the tight budget and high costs associated with attending grad school. A student who decides to live off campus will have to take into account the security deposit fee and the first month’s rent that is required before even setting foot into the apartment. Not to mention, rent, utilities, furniture and the initial moving costs. Rent prices may be lower in certain areas, but safety and access to public transportation are important factors to take into account, especially if you’re going to school in an urban area.

Living on-campus is a viable option for many students, because oftentimes the apartments are fully furnished and basic utilities and amenities are included in the rent. Leases for on-campus housing are often only for the academic year (9 months) but arrangements can be made to cover that interim period. Another perk of living on campus is that there is a built in social network of friends which can be nice if you are new to the area!

The Big Bambino...Tuition!

Tuition can be paid a multitude of ways: out of pocket, tuition waivers (from assistantships or job benefits), or through credit (student loans). Many of you may be taking out student loans for the first time and while the process may seem daunting and confusing it doesn’t have to be! It’s important to know what types of loans are best for your situation, understanding interest on your loans and what you can do to deal with this new responsibility.

First thing’s first; fill out at a FAFSA form at www.fafsa.ed.gov to determine what loans you are eligible for and how much you can borrow. The 2 main types of loans offered by the federal government are (Stafford) Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans. Each loan has a different interest rate and it’s important to understand these terms. Keeping the cost of interest under control will be important when you get out school and have to start repaying your loans. For a breakdown of the different types of student loans and more information on interest rates check out our student loan page!

Paying for School (Without Loans)

Yes, it’s possible to pay some if not all of your tuition and fees without those student loans.  Check it out:

Graduate assistantships are a great opportunity for you to reduce some of the costs of grad school and earn money while in school.

  • Depending on what type of assistance program you receive (graduate teaching assistant, graduate research assistant, graduate assistant, professional graduate assistant) or professional graduate assistant) you can receive a tuition waiver and/or stipend. Each school has different criteria (i.e. academic standing, in-state/out of state/international student, hours enrolled) for determining how much tuition will be covered and what type of stipend you can receive.

    There are several different types of grad assistance programs available that can help cover your tuition and fees, give you a monthly paycheck or even both!

    • The traditional graduate teaching assistant (GTA or TA) will get their tuition and fees covered as well as an annual stipend that ranges on average from $6,000-$15,000. Responsibilities that accompany this position vary but expect that positions may be time consuming and overwhelming.  
    • Research assistants, like GTAs, can receive tuition reimbursement and a stipend but their duties will be focused in the lab and less in the classroom.
    • Other graduate assistant (GA) and professional graduate assistant (PGA) positions available aren’t just limited to your certain field of study.  Much like University employees, GA’s & PGA’s tuition and fee waivers are taxable under federal law.  For more info on taxation of tuition and fee benefits for GA’s/PGA’s, please see below .

    No matter the type of assistantship that you are up for, it’s important to evaluate if this experience will compliment and further your academic and professional goals.

Scholarships are out there you just have to know where to look for them. Don’t limit yourself, check with your college and see what kind of scholarships they provide.

  • Your place of employment might offer a tuition reimbursement program if the degree is relevant to your current position. Make sure to be on your game with the application process and not miss any crucial deadlines.  For more information on scholarships see our page on scholarships.

Grants are different than loans and scholarships in that they are not merit based or have to be paid back, instead they are based on need.  

  • They are provided by the federal government, the university or the state. Click here for a full list of grants available College Grant Database.

Waivers & Taxes

Graduate level tuition and service fee waivers are considered taxable income by the IRS. Please reference the taxation of waivers page for more detailed information about the taxability of tuition waivers at the University of Illinois.

Example

Bobbie received a graduate assistantship position for fall 2010 and her tuition and fee waiver was less than $5,000 for her first semester of school.  Therefore, no taxes were taken out of her monthly stipend for the 2010 calendar year.  Bobbie’s assistantship is renewed the following fall (fall 2011).  Since Bobbie received a tuition and fee waiver for the spring 2011 semester (equaling $5,000) and her fall 2011 tuition and fee waiver was also $5,000, she now owes taxes for her tuition and fee waivers that go above the $5,250 allowance.

  • Bobbie will have to pay taxes on $4,750 just for her tuition and fee waivers. Taxes will also be assessed on her yearly stipend.

The University of Illinois takes these taxes out at the end of each semester from your monthly stipend.  This can cause serious financial hardship towards the end of your academic semester, when you are often focused on wrapping up theses, course projects and preparing for exams.

How can students prepare for this reduction in income?

When to expect taxes to be withheld:

  • Spring Semesters: March & April (if necessary, May)
  • Summer Semesters: July & August
  • Fall Semesters: October & November (if necessary, December)

What to do:

SAVE $$$

  • If possible, put money aside prior to the months when these taxes will be withheld.

CALCULATE IT

  • Find out how much money will be taken out of your check by using the calculators located on the Payroll website.  Please note that students with higher tuition amounts will see a $0 net paycheck, possibly for several months.  Take every precaution possible to prepare for this.

W-4 UPDATE

  • To ensure that you are having the correct amount of taxes withheld, make sure to review your W-4 every year.  The lower your number of allowances, the more taxes are withheld from your paycheck.  Make sure to update your status & number of allowances ASAP if anything occurs that would change it (e.g., divorce or legal separation).

STUDENT LOANS

  • If you have maxed out the amount of student loans you can get from the government, check into 3rd party loans.  Graduate students with good credit history are often able to get lower rates on 3rd party student loans.

FINANCIAL CRISIS

  • If you are beyond the point of preparing for this potential financial hardship, University of Illinois Extension has some resources to help in “Getting Through Tough Financial Times”.

TAX TIME

  • Remember, you are responsible for any taxes that were not withheld by the University when you file your taxes.

Cutting Corners

Books, as you all know, are a huge expense but thankfully it’s easy to save money with them. For example, utilize sites like chegg.com or ecampus.com that will rent textbooks to you for a great price. Also sites like half.com and amazon.com are great for buying used texts. Remember, buying last year’s edition of a textbook is often virtually similar to the latest edition and significantly cheaper! Unless a professor explicitly states to buy the most recent edition it is oftentimes unnecessary.

Cook like you’ve got a family to feed (even if you don’t)! Making extra food and eating those as leftovers for the week is a great way to save money on lunch and dinners.

Ditch the gym membership and work out at your school’s gym for free.  Since the gym is included in your fees you might as well take advantage of it.  With that said take advantage of your student status whenever you can, many restaurants and movies offer discounts for students so might as well use it! 

Budgeting and Your Situation

The Recent College Grad:

You just graduated from undergrad and don’t have any previous financial obligations like a mortgage or a serious credit card balance. 

So how do you budget your money appropriately?  Considering, you don’t have a ton of financial responsibility and no kids or family to boot you have a little more freedom with your spending and with that more flexibility in balancing your budget. 

By cutting out certain lifestyle spending habits like that daily Starbucks week you are saving some serious cash annually.
Check it: you spend $4 on your morning latte every day. That is $20 a week and yes $80 a month.  Add that all up and you’re out $960 buckaroos by the end of the year…all on coffee.
As a grad student it’s important to cut corners wherever you can. If you love that latte, learn how to make it at home and buy the coffee in bulk. 

Figure out what expenses are negotiable learn how to scrap them or do it yourself so you can really stretch your budget. Check out our budgeting section for the basics.

The Been Around the Block Grad:

You’ve been out of school for a while and are carrying some serious financial responsibilities.  Not only is rent due but you’ve got those federal and/or private loans to pay off. 

First thing’s first, you need to defer your loans for the time you’re in school or if that’s not possible call up your student loan lender and come up with a repayment plan that is doable.

Although you’ve been out in the real world for a while it’s time to start living like a college student again. Try some of these quick tips before and/or during the school year:

  • FINANCE CHECK-UP - Meet with a financial advisor before school so you can get your ducks in a row.  If you haven’t thought about investments yet this might be a good time to learn how to make your money grow while you’re being all Albert Einstein
  • SIDE HUSTLE - Take on a second job or apply for an assistantship to bring in some extra cash granted your work load is not too heavy.  Check out the Side Hustle Series on budgetsaresexy.com by J.Money for ideas on making some extra cash.
  • TRANSPORTATION - Sell your car if you don’t need it or trade it in for a bike—won’t be sorry to see those car payments and rising gas bills go, not to mention the high costs of parking on campus.  For more info on saving money on transportation while in school, go here.
  • HANDY-MAN/WOMAN - Learn how to Do It Yourself (DIY)--you can learn how to do anything online these days.  Everything from painting your bedroom to fixing that hole in your roof

The Non-Traditional Grad:

You’re the student who wears many hats—parent, homeowner, and full-time employee. 

Because you’re entering school at an entirely different time than most students, it’s doubly important that you understand all aspects of school, financial and otherwise.

No matter what stage in life you are at, grad school is stressful.  If you’re feeling burnt out, find a mentor or take advantage of the mental health services on campus.