How do I make school fast and cheap?
September 30, 2011 12:30 AM   Subscribe

So I'm taking the plunge (sort of) and starting grad school to get my Masters' degree. How in the world do I pay for it?

I have a degree in English Literature and have spent the last decade or so in a quasi-teaching profession. I have decided to get a Master's degree in Education, along with my U.S. teaching certification, and I have just now begun the online courses with a respected American university.

The cost ain't cheap; all together it will cost me about (very rough to keep things simple) $30,000. I work full time but I don't have $30,000. I have enough that I could pay for just one class per quarter, four classes a year, but at that rate it would take me around six years to graduate. I am currently just taking one class, and can pay for it out of pocket, but I don't think this slow pace is a good idea for professional reasons, if nothing else.

I don't want to take out a loan. I don't want to, but I feel that eventually I will have to. It will be through my university, which in turn is through Fanny Mae/Freddy Mac. My fear is that I will be saddled with that debt for years to come. But, if I take the loan and finish the degree relatively quickly--within about two years--I will be much more likely to get a job and pay back the money quickly.

So I feel like I have two lame options: go through school at a snail's pace but accrue no debt, or go through at a healthy pace and be in the red in an eyeblink. Is there some other strategy I can employ? Anyone want to give me $30,000? (hey, it's worth a shot).
posted by zardoz to Education (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are there funds available through your employer? This is always worth checking.
posted by chiefthe at 12:39 AM on September 30, 2011

Either get someone else to pay for it, take out a loan, or... don't do it.

Those are basically your options.

The real question here isn't how to make school both fast and cheap. The only way to do that is to have someone else pay for it, and, well good luck with that. The real question is whether going to school is a good financial decision for you in the long run. If the jobs you can get with this degree do not pay sufficiently more than you're currently making to retire the cost of the degree in a reasonable amount of time, the answer is "No."
posted by valkyryn at 1:14 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No funds through my employer, unfortunately. Namely I suppose because I'd be jumping ship from them once I got my degree. And yes, the degree, I'm quite certain, will be beneficial in the long run, and will pay for itself in the long run. But having so much debt is worrying to me.
posted by zardoz at 1:33 AM on September 30, 2011

Are you sure the US University is the best option? I'm just finishing up my Master from a UK university and even including the expenses of flying over three times from Canada to attend necessary classes I am getting the two year degree for $10,000. Did you look at AUS or NZ schools too?
posted by saucysault at 2:04 AM on September 30, 2011

I'm also a teacher and I just started a grad program. Some things to consider: scholarships and grants--lots exist for educators. It might be tricky at this point with deadlines, but you may be able to secure some funding for the next quarter or academic year. Look within and outside of the school for money.

Also, Direct Loans has a pretty flexible repayment system, and if you do income-based repayment and remain a teacher you may get some loan forgiveness in the future. It's worth looking into to see if this applies to your situation.

Debt sucks--believe me, I know. But it helps immensely if you can combine your loan with savings and scholarships (this is what I'm doing) in order to get done more quickly.
posted by swingbraid at 2:08 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

On preview: I'm also doing my grad degree in the UK, because it's scads cheaper (for living costs and tuition) than any of the US schools I was accepted into.
posted by swingbraid at 2:10 AM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: the degree, I'm quite certain, will be beneficial in the long run, and will pay for itself in the long run. But having so much debt is worrying to me.

That is, unfortunately, the name of the game. It's a risk. Frankly, I'm less sanguine than you seem to be about the value of the M.Ed. Sure, we'll always need teachers, but what with the ongoing battles over school reform combined with the unbelievable pressure on state budgets, education isn't really a growth industry anymore. Most of the public school teachers I know don't really expect to see raises any time in the near future, and far from being on a hiring binge, school districts are reducing their workforces by attrition and sometimes outright closing entire schools.

One thing to remember here is that teaching is one of the few professions for which large-scale debt forgiveness is available. Under current law, if you make income-sensitive payments for ten years after you get your degree, the rest of your debt will be erased, provided 1) it's all from the government, and 2) you were working as a teacher that whole time.

Of course, that's ten years of debt payments to look forward to, assuming you can get a job, but there really isn't any other way of going about it. You want the M.Ed., you take out a loan. That's pretty much what you're looking at.
posted by valkyryn at 5:49 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing take a look at the international options. Some MA programs in the UK (such as the one I just finished) are only 12 months long.
posted by Gordafarin at 5:55 AM on September 30, 2011

Response by poster: thanks all, for the advice. An international degree wouldn't really make sense, though, as I am getting a US teaching certification in the process.
posted by zardoz at 6:05 AM on September 30, 2011

The TEACH grant is available through the fed program. $4K a year in grant as long as you agree to serve at a high-need school after you graduate. If you don't work at the school, your grant converts into the standard unsubsidized loan.
posted by Think_Long at 6:30 AM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: If you are hoping to take advantage of federal student loan forgiveness for public servants, you absolutely need to make sure you're taking out the right kinds of loans. Only federal loans qualify for forgiveness. That means primarily Stafford and GradPLUS, and you have to consolidate everything properly after you graduate and start making payments. You need to carefully read the information at and on the Department of Education website about this topic, because if you want to use this program, you have to set up your borrowing properly from the start.
posted by decathecting at 6:50 AM on September 30, 2011

Best answer: As it stands, if your M.Ed. will take six years at four classes per year at $30,000, it sounds like you can afford one class per quarter at $1,250 each. There's no "partial" so if you wanted to take two classes per quarter it would cost you $2,500 and so on.

Go ahead and fill out a FAFSA; I qualified for minimal financial aid while in graduate school and if you can get them to chip in at the $1,250 level per year, that's one more class you can take a year, five instead of four. If you need 24 credits to graduate (4 classes per year for six years), and you were able to take five classes per year instead, it would shave about a year off your timeline.

You can consider a partial loan. If you want to speed up your schooling to double-time, you could take out $2,500 a year, match it with your own funds, and take eight classes per year. Graduate debt of $15,000 will not bankrupt you, and consider that if you can pay $5,000/year now, you can certainly pay it after you graduate. With a little bit of interest on top, it could take you a little over three years to pay it back, and probably about three years if you apply every windfall you get to it (like those magic three-paycheck months, and your tax refund). So you could be done in six years either way... slow and steady with no debt, or quicker with three solid years of paying it off with every spare penny. If I were faced with this choice, I'd speed up my schooling and commit to fast payments.
posted by juniperesque at 7:22 AM on September 30, 2011

Doing my Masters now (MPA) and I had to take out loans. I plan on trying to find a new job, as I could then afford to pay as I go. Only another 20K so not too worried...cheaper than law school.
posted by handbanana at 8:37 AM on September 30, 2011

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