15 Tips On How Latino Students Can Afford Their Graduate School Education

Financing May 2021 PREMIUM
In their 2018 Urban Institute study “How Students Pay: Financing Graduate and Professional Education,” Sandy Baum and Patricia Steele report that graduate and professional-degree students borrow at a rate three times higher than undergraduate students.

It also noted that research doctoral students borrow less than professional degree students.

In fact, the study cited that only 13% of adults in the U.S. over the age of 25 years have attained advanced degrees including masters, doctorates or professional studies.  It also pointed out that students from low-income households “are less likely than other graduates to pursue advanced degrees.”

Though the figures are slightly outdated and pertain to 2011-12, master’s degree students borrowed 38% or the $30,800 of their cost of public universities or 45% of the $42,500 average at private universities.

And the number of graduate students has been on the upswing. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that students enrolled in graduate schools increased 41% from 2.2 million to 3.0 million students between 2000 and 2018.

Earning advanced degrees pays off in higher salaries. Business Week on March 22, 2021 reported that men with a B.A. earn $71,000 on average but with professional degrees $136,000, nearly double, and women with a B.A. gross $51,000 but $88,000 with a professional degree.

Here are tips on financing your graduate school education offered by Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Center on Education Data and Policy at the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C. based think on public policy, and Nancy Gonzales, the provost pro tempore at Arizona State University based in Tempe, Arizona, where Latino students constituted 29% of total enrollment in fall 2020.

Tip No 1: Figure out your purpose, before jumping in

Baum from the Urban Institute says the first thing to do is for students to “figure out what they’re going to do and why they’re doing it.” Graduate degrees “work differently in terms of financing and ensuring future prospects,” she says.  For example, if you’re working toward a master’s degree in history, you’re likely going to have to finance it yourself.  Furthermore, your future job prospects, particularly in teaching at the collegiate level, are iffy. But if you’re majoring in chemistry research, your job prospects are much better.

Tip No 2: Confer with the staff at your current university

Talk with the staff at your current university to “access resources that support graduate school education,” urges Nancy Gonzales, the provost pro tempore at Arizona State University.  Staff can provide the “social capital,” she says, that can steer you to fellowship programs, teaching assistantships, lab jobs, and work/study programs.

Tip No 3: Doctoral programs play by different rules

Many people who apply for doctoral programs are able to secure teaching assistant positions or fellowships (a monetary award given to a scholar for an academic pursuit), which help offset the cost of graduate school.  “PhD programs make a big effort to get as much funding for their students as possible,” Baum says. Yet, nothing is guaranteed, every program operates uniquely, and students should inquire and make sure that this applies to their doctoral program.

Tip No 4:  Assuming some debt is often manageable

Many students view obtaining a master’s degree as occupational training, Baum notes.  And keeping that in mind, assuming a moderate debt is often manageable.  For example, if the master’s student takes out federal loans of $30,000 for the degree, and their salary rises by $10,000 a year after earning it, they'll be earning the difference in several years (considering that borrowers must also pay interest on the loan). “Don’t panic about having to take out a loan,” she urges.  It may well make sense long-term.

Tip No 5: Tap new skills learned to earn some money

Too many students get overwhelmed by the thought of incurring debt in graduate school and get paralyzed by it. Gonzales reminds students that they will be acquiring new skills in graduate school, some of which are marketable, and can “enable you to get paid for your abilities.”

Tip No 6: Secure a fellowship

At the doctoral level, obtaining a fellowship (a monetary award for a scholar to pursue an academic study) from one’s program is often the case, but not guaranteed.  Ivy League colleges, with healthy endowments, most often offer fellowships for their doctoral programs, but smaller colleges, with modest endowments, may not. “Think hard about the program you choose.  If you attend a PhD program that’s not going to fund you, they’re not going to get you a job either,” Baum declares.

Tip No 7: Consider a federal loan

The federal GRAD Plus program enables graduate students to take out loans, totaling $138,000 for their entire education.  But if students have taken out undergraduate loans, those fees will be deducted from the overall total.  Students are permitted to borrow funding for their full cost, covering tuition, rent, food and living expenses. Moreover, repayment can take place through an income repayment program based on their earnings, but Baum recommends reading all the specific details carefully.  If students graduate and their income doesn’t meet certain criteria after 25 years, that debt doesn’t have to be repaid.

Tip No 8:  Part-time work may be viable

For many students, particularly in the STEM fields, part-time work is viable while working on a master’s degree, Gonzales suggests.  Working in labs or obtaining grants from the National Science Foundation or National Institute of Health (NIH) are all doable.  And in certain other fields, such as psychology, part-time work is also a possibility.

Tip No 9: Don’t be scared off by taking out loans

Research reveals that Hispanic students borrow less than other students including African American students. Baum attributes this resistance to a “fear of borrowing.”  But she adds that “There are perfectly good reasons to borrow if they’re making a sound decision that will pay off” with a higher-paying job after obtaining a master’s or professional studies degree.

Tip No 10:  Avoid for-profit colleges

Many students are lured by advertisements and misleading marketing promotions to attend for-profit colleges.  “Most for-profit colleges are expensive and won’t help get you a job. They give you a grant to help you pay, but they’re not likely to serve you well,” Baum asserts.

Tip No 11: Explore federal support

Some graduate students may be eligible for obtaining federal public support, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps pay for food.  It varies state by state, Baum notes, but is well worth exploring to see if it applies.

Tip No 12:  Find a mentor

Finding a mentor, who could be a faculty member, collage advisor or financial aid officer, can help steer students to navigate the finances of graduate school, Gonzales advises.  Remember that faculty is often well-positioned to know about fellowships and how to apply for them, she says.

Tip No 13: Look in your state

Wherever the student resides or at their undergraduate college, they should search out fellowships and scholarships earmarked for students in that state, Gonzales implores. Some locales provide special scholarships for talented minority students so scour your state for possibilities.

Tip No 14: Paying off debt requires a long-term view

Even after leaving graduate school, there are loan repayment programs to explore that can hasten paying off graduate school debts.  For example, students who become teachers in underprivileged areas can have their graduate school loans curtailed, Gonzales says.  Exhaust all possibilities to curtail your debt, even after you’ve graduated.

Tip No 15: Bottom Line: Here’s What it Takes

Baum says that, bottom line, the key to affording one’s graduate school education is doing the research to determine the right school for one’s future job prospects combined with “figuring out how to get grant aid and thinking ahead about how it can be all be paid off.  If you make the right choice, the odds are you’ll come out with a good job on the other side.” 

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