ELI5 - paying for graduate school, last-minute edition
November 16, 2017 9:00 AM   Subscribe

I need help figuring out how one goes about getting loans for graduate school, and I don't have a lot of time to figure it out. I'm a full-time employee making a comfortable salary, and I have been taking courses one-at-a-time at a local university (through a certificate program in the same department) since 2015. I now want to go full-time and finish a master's, but the kicker is that I want to make this change by January 2018, and I have no idea how to pay for it.

I have reached the point where (1) I am highly dissatisfied with my current job, and (2) I want to be more immersed in my graduate program and (3) I want to finish faster, so I can get a job in the new career sooner. The current pace (taking one class at a time in the evenings) is too slow for me, and I am missing out on key opportunities that full-time program students are able to participate in, like internships and assistantships. I have several offers from faculty members to do (unpaid, I think) research for them as soon as I have the time, but I know I will never have the time as long as I am working at a 9-5. I recently looked into the possibility of trying to get a new full-time job in my chosen field, but the minimum requirement almost always is a masters degree. I'm basically competing with recently graduated members of my program, who now have the masters as well as the internship experience (and I don't).

I can transfer most of the credits from my certificate program into the masters program, which means I would be able to graduate in just two semesters (spring + summer, or summer + fall). I've been getting tuition reimbursement from my employer until now (equivalent to one class a semester), so I have not yet had to deal with the student aid/student loan process. I'd love to be able to quit my job before the New Year, and start full time masters coursework in January.

I can't figure out if I have missed crucial deadlines for getting loans in time for January 2018. I sincerely doubt I am eligible for any need-based aid due to my current salary. I am hoping for a loan to cover tuition (in-state) and cost of living expenses for the next two semesters. Where do I begin? What things should I keep in mind? Is this even do-able?
posted by houseofleaves to Work & Money (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Call the financial aid office at your university (or just go in)! They should 100% be able to walk you through this and let you know whether it's too late for next semester and what your options are. They should literally be able to explain it to you like you're five.

It will be useful, though, to be aware of your non-financial aid financial situation, though, before you go in. Like do you have any savings (or - riskier - a 0% interest credit card or some other ready source of credit) that you can use to bridge a gap between when your tuition is due and when your loans come through? That will give you more options.

The max annual amount of unsubsidized loans for a graduate student looks like it's currently $20,500 a year (I am not a financial aid officer!). You probably *can* get additional private loans, but if there's a way to make the government loans stretch (by tapping into non retirement savings and/or working part-time) that's a really good idea.

Remember, even if for some reason you can't make this work for January, summer session is not far away. Knowing you can quit your job in six months feels almost as good as quitting right now, and it gives you a little time to save some money, maybe change your living situation to make your life less expensive, stuff like that.

And another thing: make sure you can take the specific classes that you need to graduate in the next year. Make sure they're being offered, but also remember if you need to take a class that's being offered in Spring 2018 in order to graduate but you can't take the prereq for that class until Fall 2018, you're not going to be able to graduate in two semesters, regardless of your job.

Finally: have a contingency plan for what you're going to do if you can't find a job in your field even with the Masters and a bit of internship experience. If the loans are only going to sustain you through December 2018, you're going to be in trouble if you don't get a job right out of the program (and in a lot of fields, getting a job right out of your masters program is very much NOT a given).
posted by mskyle at 10:11 AM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Make sure you check your employer's reimbursement policy; Some companies stipulate that employees must repay tuition reimbursement if they leave the company within a certain time frame.
posted by amarynth at 10:26 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

You can file for Stafford loans anytime, even once the semester has started. See mskyle's link above. The financial aid office may fuss at you for being past one of their internal deadlines, but they will still process your loans. A master's degree almost certainly does not come with any possibility of grant aid, which is the kind of aid where deadlines matter, so no need to worry.
posted by 8603 at 10:36 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I work in student services at a large State University (though not specifically in financial aid). Here are a few thoughts:

Planning on attending school in the US? If so, file your FAFSA - the sooner the better as most forms of federal and School financial aid (including subsidized and unsubsidized loans) rely on the FAFSA's evaluation of your financial need.

FAFSA isn't the most user-friendly application, but your School's financial aid office can assist. If you've been working until now you'll wind up reporting on income that you may not have while in School. If so, your financial aid office can also assist you in filing an appeal for a change in financial circumstances that may qualify you for more assistance. Get to know your financial aid office - it's a great resource.

From there, your School will give you a financial award offer. As a grad student this will probably be a qualification for a subsidized or unsubsidized loan, and possibly some scholarships or grants depending on your need.

You should also check in with your program. Some programs may have sources of funding in their control that they can award to students as part of a recruiting package or for need/merit. There are also 3rd party scholarships, loan repayment/forgiveness programs, etc. Those will depend on your field, so you'd need to do a bit of research on the specifics.

Finally, beware private student loans. They can help you to fund your program, but read and understand the terms carefully. Interest rates, fees, and other loan conditions can be very unfavorable. That's good advice for any student loans. Many student loans cannot be discharged even in bankruptcy, so be sure to understand what you're agreeing to and have a good sense of whether it's practical to pay back.
posted by owls at 11:06 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

First step is the FAFSA. You will need your 2015 tax returns. Yes 2015. I just did mine last month for spring aid. It's not that hard.

The FAFSA will generate your efc expected family contribution based on your income and savings. You will likely not qualify for subsidized loans. Unsub loans accrue interest while you are in school.

Since you will be quitting your job you can file a financial aid appeal explaining that. The FA office MAY then possibly revise your award to include subsidized loans.
posted by ChristineSings at 7:04 PM on November 16, 2017

Yes FAFSA. However, graduate students no longer qualify for direct subsidized student loans, so just know going in that you will not see them as part of your award.
posted by augustimagination at 4:01 AM on November 17, 2017

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