Deciding to go to back to college to pursue an advanced degree can be as much a financial consideration as it can be a practical one. You'll probably take on some debt. But debt accumulation doesn't necessarily equate to reckless decision-making. On the contrary, it could be a critically important step to set yourself on a successful path forward, even though you may feel some anxiety start to build.

Individuals with a master’s or doctoral degree earn $20,000 to $30,000 more a year than those who hold similar positions but only have an undergraduate degree, according to the U.S. Labor Department[1]. It's no wonder people feel more pressure than ever to pursue higher education and are willing to accumulate debt to do so. Although you may be feeling some financial anxiety when exploring education options, having a financial plan for going back to school and setting smart goals could help ease those feelings.

So how do you do this? Here are some tips to get you started:


Tip 1: Pick a Graduate School You Can Afford

Just because a school may be more expensive than another doesn't always mean it has a better ranked program for your field of study. It depends on what your objectives are for your degree. For example, adjunct professors who want to attain a full-time teaching position at the college level typically need a doctoral degree. But it doesn’t have to come from a specific school, especially if the person has already established a working relationship with a college or university. So, it’s not a bad idea to take a broad look at the programs available to you both in-person and online and consider a more cost-effective option.


Tip 2: Negotiate an Educational Stipend with Your Employer

The professional degree you want can help benefit your future, and in many cases, the company you’re already working for. After all, your new education could be used to help your company do things better than it does today. Assuming you don’t plan to shift careers and leave your job, it’s not uncommon for people to negotiate with an employer to pay for some school expenses, like tuition, as part of their compensation packages. If your company doesn’t already have a tuition reimbursement program, you could consider starting the discussion. If you really like where you work, it’s even an option to agree to work for the employer for a set number of years before your tuition reimbursements fully vest.


Tip 3: Evaluate Loan Options Carefully

If you decide to apply for loans or use credit cards to help pay for an advanced degree, try to avoid interest rates that may be too high for your financial situation. If you're worried about running out of federal aid and your salary isn't enough to cover the expense of school, look for other low-interest aid options or consider private loans for graduate or professional students since these loans are designed to meet the financial demands of funding an advanced degree. Also, in addition to evaluating your options for interest rates and payback schedules, remember to consider possible application or origination fees.


Tip 4: Set Up Separate Checking and Savings Accounts

Keep separate accounts just for school savings and expenses. You may have a lot of money coming in and out of personal accounts, so it will be difficult to keep a close eye on how new school expenses are impacting your balances. If you keep these separate, it will help you compartmentalize school expenses and formulate a plan that you are comfortable executing.  


Paying for graduate school can make anyone anxious, but it can also be an incredible way to move yourself into a new career or a new opportunity. It’s never too late to return to school. And if you follow these tips, you may be able to do it efficiently and cost effectively.