Planning a Budget for Grad School

 Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank by Jenny L. Maxey

Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank by Jenny L. Maxey

When and how should students going to college plan a budget for graduate school? That’s the question author and blogger Jenny L. Maxey returns to answer for POCSmom readers. Take a look at Jenny’s two prior guest posts, also packed with great info: 7 Tips to Help Your Child Decrease Their Loan Debt BEFORE Graduation Day and The Political Side of Student Loans. Higher education is a huge investment that requires careful planning:

College students can prepare themselves financially for grad school in many of the same ways they budgeted for their undergraduate degrees.  However, a few new problems may arise that make it more challenging.  While there are still many scholarships available for graduate students, scholarships for a particular area of study will be narrow, which means more students gunning for the same scholarships.  Further, those applying for grad school are those that are more academically successful as undergrads.  This means that the competition is fierce for those scholarships.  Moreover, income from part-time work may also be hindered as grad school takes up more time during the school year and some programs even have work-hour caps, causing budgets to be less flexible than during undergrad.  Not to mention, you’ll find costs for grad school to be generally more expensive such as tuition, textbooks, professional networking groups among other miscellaneous costs.

It may seem easiest to just throw your hands up and give in, relying on more loans or credit cards for financial assistance.  Although the budget may be a little tighter in grad school, try to resist this urge because there are ways to continue to save.

Begin planning during the final year of undergrad.  There will be admission exams (GRE, MCAT, LSAT) to pay and prepare for.  Keep track of deadlines and take advantage of early bird discounts.  Look for free resources to help with preparation for the exam, personal statements, and building up résumés.

Continue to apply for scholarships.  Look for need-based and merit-based scholarships during the admission process, but don’t stop there.  Apply for scholarships for each year of graduate school.  For example, employers and agencies offer scholarships for reaching a certain level of grad school (i.e. a scholarship specifically for a second year law student).  Some schools even give scholarships based on academic performance throughout the duration of the program.  For instance, most law schools award students with scholarships for achieving a certain rank within their class (such as the top 10%) after the first year.

Review the school’s valuation of costs and don’t accept it “As Is.”  Visit your school’s financial aid website or office to locate the estimated costs.  There are fees that count towards the cost of tuition, but can be opted out of.  If your student prefers to jog instead of using the gym, try to opt out of the gym fee.  Or, did your student get a new computer for an undergrad graduation gift?  Opt out of the computer lab fee or the cost allotted for the purchase of a new lap top (which is included in most grad school costs when calculating the loan).  Every school is different, so be sure to check with the financial aid office to determine what can be cut.

Multi-task experience and income.  Have your student look for opportunities to multi-task.  Building a résumé with experience is a must in this job climate even with a graduate degree.  Positions such as a teacher’s assistant can offer experience and an income, and are generally flexible with school hours.  In law school there are search engine and bar preparation student representative positions, which allow students to receive an income plus discounts on study materials and programs.  If students can receive course credit for internships that also come with pay, definitely jump on the opportunity.

Make sure undergrad loans are deferred.  Most federal and some private loans will allow for continued deferment of payment if the student is enrolled in grad school (varies on full or part-time enrollment).  Make sure the loans are deferred.  This allows the payments to be delayed without interest accruing (although you’ll need to look at your specific loan agreement because terms can differ).  If the loans are in forbearance then interest will accrue, which causes you to pay more over the life of the loan.  If you haven’t talked to the lender about repayment, then payment may become due and may set your student into default if they cannot pay – so make sure undergrad loans are situated!  If your student is able, try to make interest payments on loans, even if not required, in order to keep the outstanding balance low and the amount paid over the life of the loan less.

Create the budget.  Once you and/or your student have implemented these tools to carve out a little more flexibility in a budget, it’s time to set the budget.  Look at spending for a few weeks to a month to see where it’s all going and determine areas that can be cut back.  Ask upperclassman for unexpected costs they came across so you can be prepared for them.  Use student ID cards to get discounts on food and entertainment.  Purchase used books, eBooks, or use books from the library to get textbooks at a lower rate.  Use Microsoft Excel or free smartphone apps to create a budget that is easy to enforce.  And, if the budget goes belly up, don’t quit!  Keep at it until it becomes habit.

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Jenny L. Maxey is the author of Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank, which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble on November 17, 2014. Visit www.JennyLMaxey.com for more information.

7 Tips to Help Your Child Decrease Their Loan Debt BEFORE Graduation Day

 

Barrister on a Budget by Jenny L. Maxey

Barrister on a Budget by Jenny L. Maxey

Jenny L. Maxey, author of Barrister on a Budget, and I have teamed up to provide some fresh financial suggestions for parents, the college-bound and students continuing with post-graduate studies. Jenny will focus on tips to help your child decrease student loans BEFORE graduation and I will zoom in on fresh ideas for families to do now, plan for the future, and ask others to step it up.

Enjoy Jenny’s guest post:

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7 Tips to Help Your Child Decrease Their Loan Debt BEFORE Graduation Day

Student debt is becoming a heavy burden, and not just for students.  Parents often co-sign for loans to help their child receive funds or even just to help them get a better interest rate.  The scary thing is that in the current economy, many students are unable to find a job that will allow for cost-of-living in addition to the hefty repayments.  And what happens if the student can’t make the payments?  Well, it can be two-fold.  If you co-sign, you are the one responsible to make the payments.  Plus, your child might move home (if you’re feeling the effects of the empty nest, that’s maybe not a bad thing), which can cause your bills to increase.  You’re likely going to be dipping into your retirement funds (or not saving for retirement at all), and then what happens when you retire?  You and your child are going to be stuck paying that student loan bill.  Even declaring bankruptcy, does not get rid of student loan debt.  So before you or your child sign for another loan, take these steps to better not only your child’s future, but yours as well.

  1. Avoid borrowing loans altogether.  Okay, this might sound obvious, but have you and your child looked for opportunities?  I mean really looked?  Scour the internet, local and state organizations, your employers, and corporations, anything you can do to find scholarships.  Then, apply for all of the ones your child qualifies for.  Yes, this can be time consuming, but you could avoid thousands in debt for not much work.  Joining the military is also an option that many don’t consider.  The military can offer partial and sometimes full tuition assistance among other benefits.  And, as some employers give preference to the military, can be the difference in acquiring a job or not in this market.
  2. Graduate early.  If your child is still in high school, take Advanced Placement (AP) courses.  While the exam to receive the college credit can cost $80 – $120 (plus any fees added by the high school), it can be cheaper than the same course in college.  Be sure to inquire about any financial assistance the high school may provide for these courses.  If your child is currently in college, take the full credit load every semester if the tuition is a flat rate (every school is different, so check the policies).  Also, they should use their summers wisely and do an internship that will give them course credit (and maybe some spending money) as well as experience and references!
  3. Pay attention to loan agreements.  Apply for subsidized loans and other need-based loans that will usually cover part or all of the interest payments while your child is in school.  Shop around for the lowest interest rates. Keep documents organized and be aware of your repayment schedule to avoid late fees.  Know the options to make repayment manageable to avoid fees and default.
  4. Negotiate tuition fees.  Schools have some fees that are negotiable.  Fees that are automatically put into your tuition bill, such as gym membership and athletic tickets, can sometimes be opted out of and removed from the bill.  Check with the financial aid office and discuss these options.
  5. Get a job.  If your child can handle working while in school (make sure they are able to maintain a high GPA to open up employment options upon graduation), then get a job…maybe two.  Colleges offer Resident Advisors (RA) and work study programs that are flexible with school hours and offer benefits – reduced housing expenses and free meals for RAs – or payment to pay for educational expenses.  If they get a job off of campus, they can also use the income to pay for educational expenses, decreasing the amount they may be inclined to borrow.
  6. PAY INTEREST!  This one is a biggie! Most student loans have compound interest, which means, if you don’t pay your interest, it adds on to the total amount owed and the next time you are charged interest, the payment is based on the new total.  This can quickly add up!  The original balance owed will be maintained and your child will pay less over the life of the loan if you or they make the interest payments during school.
  7. Teach them how to budget.  Keep track of spending for a month or a semester and create a budget.  Review the spending and determine what areas can be cut back.  Do they really need the $7 Starbucks coffee or the newest iPhone?  Can they buy used books or eBooks for lower prices?  Have they been flashing their student ID as much as possible to get all the discounts on food, entertainment, and transportation possible?  There are free apps available that can easily keep track of budgeting for you, making it readily accessible at each purchase and keeps you in check or there is always Excel Spreadsheet.

Now hop over to read my 10 $$$ ideas for POCS (Parents of College/college-bound Students)

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Jenny L. Maxey is the author of Barrister on a Budget:  Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank.  Jenny earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration and a J.D., and is licensed to practice law in Ohio.  Although her book is geared toward pre-law and law students, most of the information can be easily applied to any level of higher education.  Barrister on a Budget is available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble Nook.  You can find more information and follow her blog on www.jennylmaxey.com.