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Smart Financial Planning for Graduate School

May 9, 2017
Caroline Smyth

Follow these financial planning tips.

Paying for graduate school starts with forming good budgeting habits.

Finances can be a tough playing field for anyone, especially those looking to pursue a graduate education. Grad school—like an undergraduate education—can cost a pretty penny. Fortunately, there are a number of financial planning strategies and spending habits that, if started early on, can not only help you save money but can also empower you to spend your money more wisely.

Download financial planning apps

Start by creating a financial plan and sticking to it. These days, it’s becoming increasingly easier to keep track of your finances with the help of your smartphone and any number of handy budgeting apps. There are free apps like Mint and Clarity which allow you to easily keep track of your spending and savings. By giving you an easy way to monitor your income, allocate funds, and pay off your bills, financial planning tools help ensure you stay on budget .

Control impulse purchasing

Let’s face it, we’ve all woken up in the morning longing for fancy coffee, wondering if that $5 price tag will really make it as delicious as it looks. It takes a lot to walk away, to not buy that $5 coffee, even if it’s just once. Building healthy financial habits doesn’t necessarily mean you always have to say no to miscellaneous impulse purchases, however. You just need to limit the times you splurge. Those $5 coffees add up and can seriously hurt your bank account.

Build good credit

Another important long term financial planning strategy is to sign up for credit cards as soon as you’re able to. With that being said, you should always read the fine print and research interest rates, due dates, and payment information whenever you sign up for a credit card. If used responsibly, a credit card that you pay off each and every month can improve your credit score, in turn making it easier to rent an apartment or take out an auto or home loan at a lower interest rate further down the road.

Many students go into the world of credit cards without the right knowledge or information at their fingertips and consequently wreak havoc on their credit scores. Opening a card does not mean you have to spend a lot to help build your credit, however. Filling up your gas tank each week or using your card to pay a recurring bill can go a long way. Building credit is a stepping stone to your financial future. Use MyFico to learn about the different components that make up a credit score as well as tips and tricks for how to help achieve financial goals.

Offset graduate school costs

Anyone working towards an advanced degree should learn about financial aid opportunities available. There are many different types of aid, including scholarships, teaching or research fellowships, and grants. Scholarships are typically awarded based on the student’s financial need and/or academic merit and are usually specific to the major or program the student is pursuing. When applying for a scholarship, remember to find out what exactly it will cover.

Fellowships on the other hand are usually based on research or teaching and can be awarded on the basis of a combination of need and merit. These types of financial awards are usually intended to help students complete graduate or doctoral studies. In addition to looking into the fellowships offered by your prospective program, it is also worth checking out the database of fellowships created by Cornell University.

Grants are a bit different from other types of financial aid, as they are usually funded by the state government, local government, or the university. Grants are usually based solely on the need of the student.

Research student loans

It is more than likely that you will need to find other means to pay for any graduate school costs not covered by financial aid. As a last resort, you may want to look into taking out a student loan. As with any loan, you should do serious research before borrowing money. What might be an excellent match for one student might not be the right loan for you—and there are lots of different loans out there.

Books and online sources are available to help you, and many states offer free debt counseling, which can really come in handy when looking at ways to pursue that graduate degree. People from all over the United States have access to financial empowerment offices where they can meet with an advisor. StudentLoans.gov also provides free information and counseling—not to mention excellent graphics that display various loan structures to help you find a loan that would be suitable to you.

It’s important to get started with financial planning and forming good spending habits before you enter graduate school and get caught up with your studies. There are plenty of resources out there to help you, and it’s important to invest some time into figuring out what things will work best for your academic future.

Considering an advanced degree? Explore our free prep resources to hit your best GRE score.



Caroline Smyth Caroline is a junior graduating a year early from Binghamton University with her bachelor's in English Literature and Rhetoric. Her studies focus on writing, social media, and marketing, and she is currently a potential accelerated BSN student for this upcoming fall. As a writer, speaker, and juvenile diabetes advocate, she's known for her obsession with Instagram and her involvement as a Kaplan Student Brand Ambassador. In her spare time, Caroline can be found enjoying beautiful New York City, going to the beach, or cooking a delicious meal for her friends.


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