How to Pay for Graduate School Without Loans

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GoFundMe Team
|6 min read

Financial Assistance

Looking to get your MA, MFA, MBA, PhD, MD, or another graduate degree? If you want to pursue your dreams, it’s necessary—but it can cost a pretty penny.

Paying for graduate school can be daunting. When you’re looking at how to fund grad school without running up huge amounts of student loan debt, you’ll want to look at a variety of sources, including crowdfunding. On GoFundMe, students raise the funds they need for school every day—for tuition, living expenses, transportation, food, books, and more. And crowdfunding with GoFundMe is entirely free for fundraisers.

Here are some helpful tips and key sources for how to pay for graduate school. You may be able to get your masters degree for free—or at least keep your overall debt low.

Funding for specific grad programs

In your search for the right graduate program, funding will probably be a major consideration. In most academic disciplines, the top MA, MFA, and PhD programs are fully funded. That means that between tuition waivers, grants, and teaching fellowships, students in those programs pay nothing out of pocket, and also receive modest stipends to cover living expenses. In programs that aren’t fully funded, funding can vary from student to student. It makes sense to apply widely and consider funding (also known as institutional fellowships) as a major factor in deciding which program to attend.

In contrast, most professional degrees such as the MD and MBA expect students to pay tuition, in the expectation that they will be able to repay loans out of future earnings. To keep potential student debt to a minimum, look to some of the following ideas for how to pay for graduate school without loans.

According to this study, tuition discounting is an emerging trend at law schools, with many offering substantial discounts to students with high LSAT scores.

Graduate school scholarships and fellowships

Beyond funding from specific programs, you should also look at “portable” fellowships from government programs or private organizations. The best known are Rhodes, Fulbright, Mellon, Ford, and NSA fellowships, but many other fellowships exist. They’re often highly competitive, but it’s worth applying. Many portable fellowships are for students in specific fields, including teaching, nursing, sociology, or astrophysics.

Next, get more specific. When exploring private funding, start by looking for scholarships and fellowships for people like you. What defines your story? Are you a single mother returning to school? A disabled veteran? A first-generation student? Get specific, and you may find a scholarship or grant that fits you perfectly.

Several websites can help you in your search for scholarships and grants. Check out, GoGrad, Unigo, Fast Web, and Peterson’s.

Last but not least, turn to your undergraduate university’s financial aid office. They can cheer you on and give you support as you go through the process of seeking money for graduate school.

young woman in graduation cap
Let’s Send Vinita to Grad School

Crowdfunding for graduate school

Crowdfunding for graduate school tuition and other school-related expenses has become a very popular option. Tuition fundraising is available to anyone, and you get an efficient and effective way to rally friends and family to support your goal. As the world’s largest online fundraising platform, GoFundMe provides free fundraising. You can begin withdrawing funds as soon as you start receiving donations.

At GoFundMe, campaign deadlines are up to you. This means you can easily renew your campaign each summer (or anytime) for the following year’s expenses—a huge advantage, since the prior year’s campaign serves as a kind of database of your existing supporters, allowing you to easily reach out again. Many students find that the beauty of crowdfunding isn’t simply the financial support you receive, but the emotional support. Your campaign page becomes a place where friends and family offer words of encouragement and cheer you on.

If you haven’t already, start a graduate school crowdfunding campaign. If you want to compare sites further, see Which Fundraising Site Has the Lowest Fees?

Start a grad school fundraiser

Employer tuition reimbursement

If you’re already in the workforce and looking to return to school, your employer may help fund your education—it’s a win-win since an advanced degree makes you more knowledgeable and skilled. Even if you’re not pursuing a degree program, some employers will pay for you to take graduate-level courses at universities, extension programs, and more. Ask your HR director.

Working at the university

Most academic grad programs expect a teaching commitment as part of graduate study. Teaching assistants (TAs) and research assistants (RAs) typically get a discount on their tuition, in the form of fellowships. If you’re wondering how to pay for graduate school without loans this is a great option. At some universities, assistants have formed unions to secure far better terms for their work than assistants at colleges where such unions have not yet formed. If you’re planning to TA/RA, do your homework and compare stipends for each program—it could be a deciding factor on which graduate program you choose to attend.

Military service

All US military academies, including the Air Force Academy, Coast Guard Academy, Merchant Marine Academy, West Point, and Annapolis, offer a free education to students in exchange for military service.

Beyond these academies, you can find scholarships and grants available to students enrolling in any number of degree programs at public and private universities in exchange for service. Veterans can also qualify for aid to return to school under the Post-9-11 GI Bill.

Moving on up

There you have it—a solid place to start in your search for the funds you need to take your graduate school journey. It’s worth it.

To add crowdfunding to the mix, start a free crowdfunding campaign today. GoFundMe also offers a wide variety of resources to help you make the most of your efforts, including fundraising tips, fundraising ideas, and how to use social media to promote your fundraiser.

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