Paying for Graduate School

You’ve spent your kids’ entire lives saving for their college tuition – so what happens when they say they want to go to grad school, too?

So you’ve done everything right and saved enough for your child to get through four years of college – and then she announces she wants to go to medical school. What now? How do you come up with what will amount to yet another college tuition, at this late stage of the game?

First of all, get ready for some sticker shock: According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the average out-of-state tuition at a private medical school in 2019-2020 was $56,946 per year. Other graduate programs are in that same general neighborhood; three years at a top business school like Stanford or the University of Chicago can run you more than $200,000.

You’re going to need a game plan, and fast. Here are some of your options:


Many graduate programs award their own scholarships based on merit, so you’ll want to pursue these through your specific graduate school rather than a financial aid office. Outside of the universities themselves, there are also other private and public organizations that offer scholarships, including military and National Health Service Corps scholarships for medical school.  For minority families, Sallie Mae offers a handy database for scholarships aimed at those students.

Many corporate employers will pay for all or part of an MBA program, and there are even civic and private groups that will help pay for law school. Keep in mind, though, that particularly in law school, scholarships tend to be contingent on academic performance.

A 2017 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 50 percent of employers offered some form of financial assistance for graduate school. A side benefit if you’re planning to work while going to grad school: Up to $5,250 in tuition assistance from your employer qualifies as a tax-free benefit.


This is the preferred avenue for most medical school students; in 2018, the median debt for graduating med students was a whopping $200,000. There are several ways you can navigate your options here, starting with the MedLoans® Organizer and Calculator (MLOC), a specialized search tool just for med school loans sponsored by the American Association of Medical Colleges. Federal loans, which offer creative options such as income-based repayment or Pay As You Earn, are generally preferable to private ones, which tend to be much less flexible.

There are also several programs that allow med students to serve their communities in exchange for loan forgiveness. The National Health Service Corps  and the Indian Health Service  allow them to have their outstanding loans forgiven through service in an area in need of medical professionals, and The Health Professions Scholarship Program  offers med students full tuition in exchange for a military commitment. University hospitals often offer tuition repayment to graduates who are willing to work as teaching physicians after med school.

For students in other graduate disciplines, the federal government offers Direct Plus loans through the Department of Education. These offer income-driven repayment plans that utilize your income to determine your monthly payments, and can be stretched out from 10 to 25 years. Again, these are usually a better deal than privately offered student loans.

Work for the Graduate School

Especially in academic departments, research and/or teaching assistantships can help cover tuition, and even provide a stipend as well. These hiring decisions are often made by a single department or professor, so it’s important to be proactive about finding the people on staff who can make a difference on your behalf.

Law students are generally discouraged from working during their first year, which tends to be very time-intensive. But in the second and third year, students often find the opportunity to work part-time jobs at law firms, which can not only bring in some extra money but lay the groundwork for an eventual career.

Most Importantly, Get Started Now!

No matter which avenue you want to pursue, it’s critical to get started as soon as possible. Many schools only have so much to hand out in scholarships and financial aid. Schools may only have so many jobs to offer to incoming students. As soon as your student decides this is the path they want to pursue, even before you’re sure you’ll need financial aid, it’s vital to find out what’s available to you.

One More Issue

The other key question regarding graduate school is, who pays? Most parents feel an obligation to shepherd their children through college; but graduate school, especially when the child may be well into his or her twenties, is a different story. 

The biggest difference between undergrad and graduate school is that most parents expect their children to attend college and may have been saving for years to pay for it.  Graduate schools have a much smaller window. So if you as a parent aren’t able to fully support your child’s ambitions, don’t feel guilty about it. Just be creative and be supportive – after all, they’re adults now.