graduate financial aidWith jobs scarce for recent college graduates, many are considering continuing their education and delaying the job search. While a graduate degree will make you more qualified for a higher paying job, you have to get the degree first. And that means more tuition payments. Start applying for graduate financial aid now, before you're buried under a mountain of debt.

An easy place to begin the search for graduate financial aid is with Sallie Mae. There are several loan options for students, regardless of their school or field of study. For those in business, dental, law, or medical school, Sallie Mae also offers graduate financial aid loans specifically for these programs. Make sure to research before deciding on a loan, and don't forget about private loans. Many financial companies like CitiBank and Wells Fargo offer private graduate school loans if you don't want to go through Sallie Mae.
Abby Cottrell, 22, is relying heavily on loans while she works toward a doctorate of physical therapy from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The three-year program is going to cost her around $120,000, and she expects to have a debt of $80,000 upon graduation. Cottrell estimates that it will take her 10 to 20 years to pay off her graduate financial aid.

If that kind of debt in graduate financial aid scares you, also look into a fellowship, which is the graduate school version of the undergrad scholarship. Fellowships can come from third parties or from the university itself. It does not need to be repaid, making it a very desirable graduate financial aid option.

A number of characteristics can qualify you for a fellowship, whether it's a talent, your ethnicity, your background, or your undergraduate grades. There are no guarantees, though. Despite her top grades and extensive extracurricular involvement in undergrad, Cottrell did not receive any of the fellowships for which she applied and has to rely on other graduate financial aid.

Working and going to graduate school? You're in luck. Your employer may contribute toward your education. Employers can contribute up to $5,250 in graduate financial aid, and it's tax free. Your employer may have specific requirements to receive the financial assistance, but laws mandate that the funds be used exclusively for the employee's own further education and not for housing or courses in hobbies.

Despite the financial stress and potentially huge debt that some experts say cannot be overcome, many students, including Cottrell, say that graduate school and graduate financial aid is the best way to reach their career goals.

"Grad school gives me an opportunity to work in a profession I enjoy and that I'm passionate about," Cottrell said. "And I can accept the debt because hopefully my graduate degree will allow me to earn more money over the course of my life compared to a profession requiring less education."

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