Top Secret Ways to Afford Grad School

Which really aren’t so top secret!

Grad School

So, something you have to know about me is that when Summer 2020 hits, I will have been in graduate school for 3 years. I just had someone tell me that maybe I can take a break this summer and enjoy summer break with my boys. Unfortunately, that will not be happening. Summer school for me begins on May 26th.

Honestly, though, I am so blessed to be in graduate school and even more blessed to have the capability to pay for school in cash. When I first started graduate school I was told by many people there was no money for graduate students. I have since found this to be a myth. There is A LOT of money out there for graduate students and I’m determined to help educators find creative ways to go to school for free or close to free.

Sam Houston State University

I just graduated from Sam Houston State University in December 2019 which in my opinion is the most amazing educator school out there. In life you pay for what you get, and if you want a highly informative education with highly supportive professors then this school is for you! I was so impressed with their Curriculum and Instruction department. God laid it on my heart to begin graduate school three years ago and I knew that I wanted my diploma to come from SAM.

This is me after I finished crying and telling my family thanks for all the support. Eli, my oldest son said, “So, now that school is over can I turn up the TV?” HA!

Texas A&M University

While in my last semester at Sam Houston, a phenomenal opportunity opened up that I just could not ignore. Our superintendent sent out an email encouraging educators to pursue a Master in Administration through Texas A&M University. This opportunity not only included a cohort, which would be a team of educators working together throughout school, but also grant money. Long story short, I applied for the cohort and was one of forty-eight applicants who passed the interview process and online test. This cohort is grant operated and by the end of this program I will have acquired $9,000 in grant money along with a new laptop.

SHOW ME THE MONEY!

I applied for a scholarship that our professors encouraged us to pursue and received another $5,000 for the Fall and Spring of the 2019-2020 school year. This was such a blessing because I was in two graduate programs in the Fall of 2020. That year I also received a $1,000 scholarship from Sam Houston from their Curriculum and Instruction program. For both of those grants, I had to fill out a piece of paper and either get a signature or recommendation from a professor. That’s it!

Overall, I think I received somewhere around $8,000-$10,000 from Sam. How was all this possible?

“Look, Ma! No loans.”

Well, first of all if I had taken out loans then I would have denied myself some GREAT opportunities. I’m not going to lie, there have been some moments during grad school where I asked my husband if I should take out student loans due to other expenses and raising two kids, but Greg stood strong and forced me to rely on faith.

FAFSA

As soon as you sign up for FAFSA, which you need to do as soon as you apply for a graduate program, you will begin receiving loan offers in your financial aid portal. By the way, the FAFSA window opens early October, so make sure you apply. The most difficult year we had financially was the year I signed up for FAFSA too late. I was told that I would not be receiving any money that year because it is given out on a first come, first serve basis. I didn’t make that mistake twice!

Now I didn’t necessarily receive my monies FROM FAFSA, but I was asked with every scholarship if I had completed FAFSA. So, don’t skip this step even though the paperwork process is a little long. At SHSU, I received scholarships from the Curriculum and Instruction department. My last semester there I received a $1,000 grant due to an application that I filled out the semester before. I will tell you that I think I received a $1,000 scholarship every summer term and I wondered if this was because they had money left-over that they needed to spend.

Make Grad School Work For YOU

Also, at Sam I would register for classes depending on what we could afford. If we had money for one class, then I signed up for one class. One year I had to take two classes per semester in order to receive a $5,000 grant. So just know that some of your grants and scholarships may have stipulations tied to them. If you don’t know then call financial aid. You will learn quickly that they will become your BFFs.

Love Me Some Financial Aid

This past semester at Texas A&M, I called about a grant that I did not receive and was honest with the guy at the financial aid office telling him that I didn’t know if we could afford $900 per month plus I was in my last semester at Sam and had just paid them $800. See, part of my cohort is that I sign up and pay for 3 classes per semester. That’s a total of 9 semester hours which makes me a full-time graduate student (which usually means Mo-Money, Mo-Money, Mo-Money). The guy was extremely nice telling me that he could reopen my loans. I said, “No thanks.” A few weeks later, I looked in my financial aid portal and I did receive that $5,000 grant after all. I’m wondering if he put my name down as a student in need and there was money left over after all. So far with Texas A&M, I have only paid $1,000 and I’m halfway done.

Payment Plan

Something you may not know is that schools allow you to pay a small amount of your total per semester through a payment plan. This really helps when you are paying cash and don’t have the total amount on hand. I have used a payment plan since beginning school three years ago. Just know that there may be a minimal fee to sign up for a plan, but to me it’s still worth it!

Part-Time Job

Another huge blessing with all of this graduate work was that a part-time job opened up for me back in October 2016. I would be playing the piano for a wonderful church and would need to practice on Wednesdays and play on Sundays. The money I make from this church goes toward my graduate school. Between this part-time job and free money, we have had to spend very little out of our own pocket.

Never Too Old

If you would have told me years ago that I would begin graduate school at the age of 38, I never would have believed you. What is really unbelievable is that I will have two Masters degrees at the age of 40. I will tell you that with God all things are possible, and that includes pursuing graduate school DEBT-FREE.

It’s Your Turn

So, what about you? Are you ready to pursue graduate school? If not, what is holding you back? Feel free to contact me at whitney@whitneysparks.net. I would love to walk with you through the process.

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