To Pay for Grad School, Think Like An Entrepreneur

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Weigh your options to pay for your graduate business education. 

If you’re reading this, one of two things has happened. Either the big day has already come – you’ve anxiously checked the portal of your graduate school of choice and found you were accepted – or you’re contemplating an application in the near future.

No matter where you are on that journey, Day #1 (Celebrate!) is invariably followed by Day #2: Yikes. How am I going to pay for this?

College was costly and yes, grad school will also be costly. As with many life investments of value, the path will require short-term financial sacrifice, with a focus on longer-term payoff. Figuring out the financial path can be overwhelming and discouraging – but less so if considered strategically and viewed as a challenge. At  Graziadio, we encourage our applicants and newly accepted students to view financing with an entrepreneurial perspective: How can I identify opportunities? How can I leverage resources? What else do I need to do to make this happen?

A few tips may help you weigh your options to pay for your graduate education:

  1. Start by taking a fearless self-inventory. How’s the state of your finances? How strongly do you feel about the will and discipline required by the pay-as-you-go plan; conversely, what’s your tolerance for indebtedness? You can save yourself a lot of grief later if you draw up a budget now and make plans to meet your upcoming needs.
  2. Leverage available networks and resources. Talk to the counselors at your Financial Aid office, explore grants, scholarships and financial aid options, and if needed, get help with pursuing them. Graduate schools like Pepperdine Graziadio offer generous scholarships based on merit and endowed scholarship guidelines, and platforms like Scholly match you with targeted, individualized scholarship options. Be aggressive about applying for these opportunities! The awards can range from a small amount to full tuition. 
  3. Think out of the box. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently profiled two young women who, at the ages of 5 and 10, started their own root beer business in order to save for college; the oldest just moved into the university dorms for her freshman year. You may not have launched a business in your formative years, but that doesn’t mean the door is closed to grad school. If you’re employed, does your employer offer a tuition reimbursement program? Can you work part-time during your program, or freelance? Can you find a work-study program? Can you ask relatives to invest in you?
  4. Consider loans. Still can’t make the math work? Then consider loans. Many entrepreneurs use credit to finance their operations and ensure adequate liquidity; graduate students can consider subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans, Graduate PLUS loans, and alternative (private) loans. But exercise an abundance of restraint with loans – what seems to be an immediate solution can be burdensome when the loan matures. Poor counseling can jeopardize this by downplaying or minimizing the responsibility of loans, while strategic thinking prepares you to manageably integrate payments within your post-grad budget.

You made it work? Now work hard! Grad school requires a lot of time and effort, but provides a foundational map for a fruitful career and enhanced earning power. A recent poll of 14,000 graduate business school alumni from the GMAC revealed that graduates of full-time two-year MBA programs get a median boost in base salary of $30,000 coming out of business school and see an average annual salary increase of 7.1 percent over the course of their careers. And business school alumni earn a median of $2.5 million in cumulative base salary over 20 years following graduation – about a half-million dollars more in median cumulative base salary than they would earn if they did not go to business school. So make sure you’re maximizing your financial investment by pushing yourself and making lots of connections that help you realize your long-term goals.

Financing graduate school may seem overwhelming, but it can be done. Like an entrepreneur, stay focused on the long-term goal and never give up on your dream; your hard work, creativity, and eventually your payoff, will stand as a testament to your purpose and vision.

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