4 Ways to Save for Graduate School (Without Financial Aid or Loans)

It’s no secret that graduate school is very expensive, but at the same time, it’s one of the most valuable investments you will ever make.

To make this post completely transparent, I am actually going to share the exact cost of how much I’m paying for my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Chapman University, a university made up of an extraordinary blend of liberal arts, science, and professional programs in Orange, California. To give some context, Chapman University is a private school and is ranked in the top 15% of American colleges and universities. As such, the cost of attending a school like Chapman University is actually pretty high, especially when compared to public schools.

Here is a breakdown of the cost of attendance for the Creative Writing program at Chapman:

  • $1035 per unit of class
  • Each class is typically 3 units
  • To be a full-time student, you have to enroll in at least 3 classes (or 9 units)
  • To complete the program, you must complete 12 classes (or 36 units)

So the cost = $1035 x 36 = $37,260 for classes only.

The above does not include room and board, books, cost of living, transportation, medical insurance, etc., so I’ve budgeted around $45,000 for two years of graduate school. That’s almost $50,000, which is half of $100,000. If you’re like me, just hearing these numbers can make your eyes want to pop out of your head.

Although the cost of a graduate program can definitely play a factor in your decision to attend, don’t let it deter you! Aside from government granted aid options and loans, there are a lot of different ways to save and budget, so that the cost of attending school isn’t so daunting. Read on to see how I managed to pay for school without any financial aid or loans!

Start a Savings Account

Even prior to applying for graduate school or being accepted into a program, one of the first things I ever did after I finished my undergraduate studies was start a savings account. One of the benefits of having a savings is that it forces you to put a set amount of money into an untouchable account every month, so you regularly (and unconsciously) save for a rainy day. Another perk is the interest that you earn; remember – checking accounts don’t offer any interest!

I started my savings account in 2014, and I’ve been working full-time ever since then, until I eventually started my graduate studies in 2020. This means I had a full 6 years to actually save on a monthly basis, so by the time I actually decided to pursue my Masters of Fine Arts, I had a considerable amount of money saved up.

The amount of money that you want to put into your savings on a monthly basis is entirely up to you, but my suggestion is this – if you’re still relatively young without a lot of financial burdens, then I’d definitely recommend putting more money into your savings. You’ll only thank yourself in the long run!

Budget

The next topic I want to cover is budgeting! Whether you’re working, getting ready to attend school, or are already a graduate student, budgeting is actually a very important skill to have as an adult.

One of the easiest ways to control your monthly spending is to ask yourself the question of want versus need. It may be tempting to buy things that are on sale, especially if there’s a huge discount, but at the same time, if you don’t actually need this item, then it’s not a useful purchase.

For instance, while last season’s sneakers may be selling for a discounted price, you don’t necessarily need another pair, especially if you already have two other pairs of perfectly wearable sneakers at home. In the long run, this method will help you save a lot of money!

Another effective way to budget is to use the “cost per wear” or “cost per use” method. I use a very simple formula to assess whether a purchase is actually worth the price.

For example, there is a winter coat that is on sale for $150. While at a glance, this article of clothing may seem pricey, I like to evaluate the item’s worth based on how many times I’ll actually wear it, which in this case, is at least 10 times during the winter season. This means that I’m technically only paying $15 every time I wear it! That’s definitely a good purchase.

Limit Eating Out / Ordering In

Another easy way to save money is to limit eating out or ordering from delivery services such as Postmates, Uber Eats, DoorDash, etc.

When I was working, I occasionally went out for lunch or happy hour with my coworkers, but I tried to limit these outings to only once a week. Although a meal may only be $15, if I ate out every day, that would be $75 per week, $300 per month, and $3600 per year! If you looked at my previous calculation of my school costs, then that’s the cost of about 3.5 units of class! Although saving a little everyday may not seem like much, it’ll make such a huge difference in the long run.

The same thing can be said about ordering from Postmates or Uber Eats. While these services make ordering in so convenient, just be careful of doing it too often, since the costs can easily rack up. Even if there is free delivery, these delivery apps charge a service fee, and don’t forget that you also have to tip your driver. A meal that costs $10 can easily be rounded up to almost $20!

A helpful tip – one of the easiest ways to curb the urge to eat out is to bring your own lunch to work! It’s also a lot healthier too, since you have more control over what you eat!

Take Advantage of Discounts / Sales / Coupons

Another easy way to save money is to take advantage of discounts, sales, and coupons! If I don’t need something right away, I typically wait until there’s a sale, so I can get a better deal. Signing up for retailers’ email newsletters is a great way to stay in the loop and have first access to discounts or coupons!

Live at Home

And one of my last tips – live at home, if you’re still able to. I know that a lot of us dream of moving out right after college, but in actuality, it’s really hard to be able to live on your own as a twenty-one- or twenty-two-year-old, especially in cities like Los Angeles or New York City, where the cost of living is super high.

In LA, the cost of a studio in a safer neighborhood can range anywhere from $1800 – $2500 per month (depending on how close you are to the heart of the city), and this doesn’t even include utilities, such as gas, water, electricity, phone, internet, etc.

An average starting salary for a college graduate is around $15 per hour, so in one day you’ll earn $120, in one week you’ll earn $600, and in one month you’ll earn $2400. That’s barely enough to cover just rent, and you didn’t even factor in all of the utilities, and we haven’t even gotten around to the topic of groceries.

I know not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to move back in with their parents, but if the opportunity arises, don’t hesitate to take your parents up on their offer! Although it may suck to move back into your childhood bedroom and back to your hometown, there’s nothing wrong with having a little bit of support before your career takes off. Paying your parents for groceries or for household items cost significantly less than living on your own, and I’m so thankful to my parents for their generosity.

And that wraps up the methods that have helped me save money for graduate school. I understand that not all of these methods may be accessible to you, but I do hope that they have given you some insight into how to budget and save, especially if you’re looking into pursuing graduate school.

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