After you’ve made the decision to pursue your master’s degree, the next step is to determine how you will fund your education. Fortunately for students throughout the United States, a variety of financial assistance opportunities exist to help pay for classes, textbooks, materials and more. Discovering the type of financial assistance that is right for you will help put you on the fast track to earning your master’s degree in a way that fits your lifestyle and your budget.

Tuition Reimbursement

Many companies offer financial assistance to their employees to fund their education. This provides working students with incentive to earn advanced degrees that will ultimately help them achieve more in the workplace. The average contribution from an employer’s reimbursement program is approximately $3,000.

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships for master’s degree programs are based on a variety of criteria. These include merit proven by previous academic performance, financial need and the area of specialty a student chooses. Scholarships pay all or a portion of your tuition and do not have to be paid back. In some cases, a scholarship renews each year or semester, but renewal is dependent upon the student’s academic performance.

Grants are similar to scholarships in that recipients do not have to pay them back. Grants are typically funded by a council, foundation, a charitable individual in the community or a government organization, such as the U.S. Department of Education. They may or may not be renewable, depending on the terms set by the founder. Award of a grant is generally based on both academic merit and financial need. Applications for both scholarships and grants are available online and at your school’s advising office.

Loans

For the majority of students, scholarships and grants don’t cover all of the expenses associated with pursuing a master’s degree. This is where loans become particularly useful.

There are two types of student loans: public and private. One of the most commonly used public loans are Perkins loans, which are granted to schools by the federal government and administered to students based on financial need. They are low-interest loans and do not gain interest for during the time the student is enrolled. Students are not required to begin making payments on Perkins loans until nine months after graduation.

Another need-based, low-interest option is the subsidized Stafford loan. Like the Perkins loan, the Stafford does not begin accruing interest during the student’s education. There is a six month grace period before regular payments are required. Unsubsudized Stafford loans are similar to the subsidized version in some ways, including the six month grace period and affordable interest, but the major difference between them is that the unsubsidized loan begins to gain interest when the loan is taken out instead of after graduation. If a student has reached the upper limit on subsidized Stafford loans and is still in need of financial assistance, the unsubsidized Stafford can be immensely helpful.

Additional assistance may be obtained in the form of private loans. Some students choose to apply for private loans from their colleges or universities while others borrow money from family and close friends. Private loans can be a great way to supplement loans and other sources of financial aid

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