Money Wise Women Mentors Q&A: Grad School

By Ina Herlihy '14, Business Manager

Q: What are some tips for those considering graduate school?

A: Interview at least three respected people in your field. Also, interview people who dropped out of the degree program. Some people enroll in a PhD program but graduate with a master’s degree instead.

Consider how attending graduate school will benefit your career. Skills and experience may matter more than the certification or higher degree. Estimate how much you expect to earn once you complete your education

Make sure that the money you spend on your education is invested wisely. Don’t seek a credential when the up-front cost is more than a year’s starting salary in the field. Consider working first. Q: What are reasons to go to graduate or professional school?

A: It opens up career opportunities. Some careers require further education. You may want to enhance your education and pursue research opportunities. You may have a higher potential for future promotion.


Q: What are reasons NOT to go to graduate school?

A: Graduate school enables the “professional student” mindset. Do not continue your education just to avoid entering the real world. It may be stressful and take anywhere between two to seven years. This is a time when many consider marrying, purchasing a house and deciding when/ if to have children. Attending graduate school can increase personal debt and defer the time that you begin to make an income to pay for these future costs. There is no guarantee of a higher salary, and the return on investment may be slow.


Q: What is the difference between an academic and a professional graduate degree?

A: Academic graduate programs may offer positions as a teaching or research assistant. However, many do not have a job waiting after graduation. Graduates may encounter a difficult time finding jobs outside of teaching or research, and many of these jobs are very competitive. Although professional graduate students may have to take on massive amounts of debt via student loans, they generally earn more after graduation. Q: What makes financial aid different at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level?

A: At the graduate level, financial aid is more merit based than need based. Aid is often granted by academic departments rather than by the Financial Aid Office.


Q: What are loan options?

A: Loans are based on need, and must be repaid. Federal loans include the Stafford Loan and Federal Perkins Loan. Both are eligible for consolidation, meaning that they can combine to one big loan with one monthly payment.Private loans from banks can be more expensive, coming with a higher interest rate.


Q: What is a debt-to-income ratio?

A: Divide your monthly minimum debt payments (including mortgage or rent) by your monthly gross income. You should only borrow what you can afford. Q: What is an example of the debt-to-income ratio?

A: You earn $5,000 each month in gross income, and a yearly bonus nets you $500 a month. Your total monthly income is $5,500. You pay $200 a month in student loans, $500 in rent, $150 on a car payment and $150 on your credit cards and other expenses. Your total monthly debt payments are $1,000. $1,000 (debt) divided by $5,500 (income) = a ratio of 18.2 percent.


Q: What are sources of funds?

A: Graduate assistantships and research/grant positions. The government, corporations and private organizations all sponsor scholarships and grants. Many companies offer employer education programs.

It is important to ask about this benefit when accepting a job offer. Even though you may not be considering attending graduate school now, you may later. Ask your family about financing your degree. Q: What are tips for applying for financial aid?

A: Pay all your ongoing bills on time. Avoid delinquency or default. Apply for every financial aid program, scholarship and grant available to you. You have nothing to lose by submitting many applications. Begin the financial aid process early. Some funds are awarded on a first-come, first- served basis.

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