How I’m Getting the Most out of Paying Grad School Tuition

The end of the semester is in sight! I’m happy to say that the first nine hours of my master’s program will be complete by December 17. Once the next three weeks are over, I’ll finally have some time to relax, visit family, and truly reflect on everything I’ve learned the past few months.

I’ll also take that time to determine how much I’ve spent on graduate school so far and what I should expect to spend in 2017. Since I’m paying for my program through a combination of a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award (received after I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA), matching tuition funding for the award, student loans, and savings, it’s important that I plan for future payments to know how much funding I have left.

This process also keeps me mindful of other ways I can save money in grad school. If you’ve attended or are attending graduate school, you know that an advanced degree comes with unexpected expenses. From textbooks to transportation, full- or part-time study ultimately costs more than what you expect when you initially receive that tuition bill.

It’s impossible to completely eliminate all graduate school-related costs, but here are some ways – both big and small – that I’m working to reduce extra graduate school expenses while taking advantage of what I’m already paying for:

1. Studying at the library instead of the coffee shop

In college, I remember constantly using my university’s library to study, meet up with friends, and even relax with a book. Sometime after graduating I stopped using the library as a place to hang out and starting using coffee shops instead. I love coffee shops for many reasons, like their lovely coffee smell and bustling atmosphere. I also think they’re a great place to study, especially when you’re with a friend. But they’re not the best place to hang out if you’re trying to be savvy about saving money while in graduate school. It’s nearly impossible to avoid the temptation of spending just a few extra dollars on coffee or a treat. Plus, if you don’t intend to buy anything, you don’t want to be that person – the one who goes to a coffee shop and sits for hours but doesn’t buy anything.

2. Avoiding purchasing a parking pass

One of my least favorite ways to spend money is on parking. When it comes to paying for parking, I feel like there’s a way to get around the system. At Webster, most graduate students buy a parking pass and park in the garage. I don’t blame them – the garage is close, convenient, and is presented as the only option for on-campus parking.

Instead of joining them, I’ve avoided the garage for the last 18 weeks by parking on the street. It’s required me to be creative and flexible – it’s never a guarantee that I’ll find a spot, but I haven’t had a problem yet. In the process, I enjoy a longer walk, mentally prepare for class, and save $160 a year.

3. Renting instead of buying textbooks

I’m still amazed by how much textbooks cost. I understand that the price of textbooks is nominal compared to the overall cost of going to graduate school, but textbooks can take a sizeable chunk out of your budget over the course of a program. That’s why I was happy to discover that I could avoid owning every textbook and rent through Amazon instead. This semester alone I’ve saved $297.37 by renting instead of buying textbooks. (By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about the factors that play into textbook costs, the Planet Money podcast has an episode on the issue.)

3. Working out at the university gym

Even though it’s hard to find free time when working full-time and going to graduate school, I know prioritizing exercise helps me decrease stress. It also makes me feel better prepared for my week, both physically and mentally. Since I’m already technically paying for access to the university gym through my tuition, I see it as savings on a gym membership, which could cost anywhere from $25 to $80 a month.

4. Taking advantage of student discounts on public transportation

In St. Louis, Webster and most other universities have a deal with St. Louis’ Metro Transit that provides college students with free public transportation passes. I love this benefit, especially since I can use my transit pass whenever I need, not only when I’m traveling to class. Using my pass saves me money on days I take the train to work by eliminating the need to pay for parking and the cost of gas.

5. Utilizing my school’s career services

It’s easy to put off visiting your school’s career services – I know I’m guilty of only visiting Webster’s career services once. I’m pledging to change that in 2017, and will work with an advisor to develop a career plan, improve my resume, and practice interviewing. I love that I get to take advantage of this perk, because if I wasn’t currently enrolled in grad school, seeking out an independent career coach typically costs hundreds of dollars.

6. Packing snacks for class

Each night I have class, I see it: a fellow student forgets to bring food to get them through four hours of class and he or she is forced to hand over their hard-earned dollars to the vending machine. It’s not really a big deal every once in a while; after all, who really has the time to prep each and every meal ahead of time? It’s only when it becomes a habit that it’s a problem.

Some days, I’m tempted by the salty treats the vending machine has to offer. Most days, however, I’m glad that I’ve packed a dinner – or at least snacks – that will get me through a long day of work and class.

When it comes to unexpected graduate school expenses, I see it this way: I’m already paying thousands of dollars for an advanced education. Why bother paying even more for avoidable expenses? If I can trim my costs and take advantage of the perks I’m already paying for, then I’ll feel better about investing in my degree and the opportunities that will come with it.

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