Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Advice to Prospective Grad Students: The Cost of Attendance

“Don’t start with what you can afford. Start with what you want. Then find a way of getting it.” -Nellie McCaslin

Graduate school takes an investment of time, energy and money. When I was considering graduate school, through the application process and even into my first year of study I kept asking myself the same question. Can I afford it? I know I am not alone in balancing a budget and carefully weighing finances into much of my decision making. As an independent contractor working as a teaching artist and actress when I decided I wanted to apply to grad school I knew it would take planning to make it work. Writing out the costs of GREs, application fees and then the cost of attending interviews I recognized the investment of money I needed to apply and thought a lot about the financial investment that would come if I got in. I realized that if I seriously was thinking about graduate school I seriously needed to save up.

I started budgeting money earned from my many teaching gigs by putting one set of paychecks in my checking account for bills and the other set in my savings account for grad school. As I was offered jobs I would calculate how much it would contribute to my ‘grad school money’ hoping to inspire myself to keep pushing as I once again took on subbing a class on my one day off. I saved up, eventually applied and was thrilled to be admitted to The University of Texas at Austin. Now initially when looking at the cost of school I didn’t think much beyond tuition and housing. But once I was admitted and I really started to price out the cost of moving across the country for school there were a variety of expenses I hadn’t previously considered. Again I found myself crunching numbers trying to figure out how to cover the cost. Eventually I realized that if I worked one extra week that summer I could cover the cost of moving across the country.

Now as a graduate student the budgeting continues. I’m fortunate to receive scholarships, financial assistance and have a graduate assistantship from my program but money is always tight. In my first semester I found a quote by Nellie McCaslin that reads, “Don’t start with what you can afford. Start with what you want. Then find a way of getting it.” This is posted above my desk as a reminder to myself that while I need to consider finances when making a decision I shouldn’t discount opportunities because of them. Last year in a quest to finance attending ASSITEJ in Copenhagen/Malmoe I found myself babysitting an extra eight hours a week then giving up my apartment when I went away to work for the summer. My experience has been that I can figure out how to finance anything if I think ahead and am willing to find the hours to work for what I need. I work a lot, both as a student and outside of class, but halfway through my program at The University of Texas at Austin I can honestly say that my experiences as a graduate student have been well worth the investment.

UT Faculty, Alumni and Students at ASSITEJ in Malmoe/Sweden in May 2011

Things to consider when applying/attending graduate school

  • What will it cost to move?
  • What will your living expenses be? Housing? Food? Clothes?
  • How much should you expect to pay for books?
  • Will you have a car? How much is parking? Gas? Insurance?
  • Where will you get health insurance? How much will this cost?
  • What professional organizations are you expected to be a member of?
  • What conferences will you want to attend?
  • Will you work? Within your program? Outside of school?
  • Will you stay over the summer? If not can you sublease or do a shorter lease to avoid paying double rent?
  • How much will it cost to fly home to visit?

Note: The above is not meant to be overwhelming but rather to share things to consider when planning to apply for and attend graduate school. My hope is that some of what I’ve shared here will help others truly consider the cost of graduate school and plan to make attending a reality.

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    0 Response

    1. Kent Jones

      Great advice! Wish I had taken the time to sort things out when I was considering a return to grad school
      I chose the “Leap and the Net Will Appear” path which – for better or worse – has involved several government
      loans. Which, in turn, I hope will encourage me to do very well in upcoming job interviews… The great thing about
      having “sudden money” (loans) is that it has taken away most of the fear surrounding financial challenges. I put together
      a massive “Wish List” at Amazon.com – any book that grabbed my eye and wasn;t available in the school library.
      Now, as graduation and an MFA in a completely new-to-me field rapidly approaches, I am focusing on how to pay for
      this three year adventure.

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