You don’t frequently hear the words graduate school and affordable in the same sentence. But for my family, it truly has been. And while it can be expensive to become a doctor or a lawyer, there are other fields that offer some financial incentives.
Take computer science, for example, my husband’s chosen doctorate field. To our pleasant surprise, the process has been financially beneficial to us, rather than a drain. Here’s how we found an affordable graduate school option — and our tips for making the most of grad school.
Many doctorate programs don’t require you to come up with your own money for tuition and fees, especially in S.T.E.M. fields. When applying, look for universities that fund their doctorate students, whether through teaching assistant positions, grants, or advisor funding to cover the costs of university tuition and fees.
Doctorate programs are research-based and often treated as a job, which means students assist their advisors with research while also completing their own. Generally, the university owns the rights to student’s research, which can make graduate students valuable. For my husband, working as a teaching assistant in his first year was a lot of extra work, but it provided him funding through his advisor’s lab resources once that year was completed. Between that money and the grants he got through the university, he has never paid a dime towards his tuition.
Thanks to on-campus housing, our one-bedroom southern California apartment costs just $900 a month, including utilities, wifi and cable. Seek out universities that offer housing; we’re within walking distance of the school, grocery stores, restaurants, shops, a movie theater, and even a Target. That, in turn has saved transportation expenses.
My husband’s salary, while not wildly generous, allows him to put a few thousand dollars into savings each month. That’s more than most of our friends in the working world can afford.
In our case, the real money came during summer internships. I remember internships that came with long hours and no pay. Turns out, computer science graduate students are in high demand.
During his first summer interning at a tech company, he made as much in three months as I made in an entire year as an entry-level employee. The next summer, he returned to the same company, and they paid him even more than before as he was further along in his degree progress.
As a graduate student, it’s important to remember that you are no longer an 18-year-old freshman. You are becoming an expert in your field and have valuable skills and experiences to share. Some graduate students consult during the school year, while others are well-paid tutors. My husband recently fielded an offer as a part-time night job as a computer science teacher for high schoolers. Options for extra income abound.
This is a fun perk we never saw coming. Because my husband’s doctorate program is research-based, he publishes his work — often by academic conferences. Sometimes these conferences are minutes from where we live; other times, they are across the world.
The university generally pays for the hotel, food, and plane tickets, and when that’s been the case, I can come along for just the cost of my tickets and a few nights at a hotel — whether it’s to Stockholm or Paris.
Financial freedom has allowed my husband to focus on his studies and fully enjoy this experience and his work — and make the most of this rewarding time of our lives.