My College:

Should Parents Help Pay for Grad School?

Brian Soika

When your student graduates from college, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed with pride, joy — and relief. If you’ve been footing the tuition bill, you’re officially off the hook!

But what should you do if they ask for financial assistance with graduate school? Whether it’s a master’s or doctoral degree, med school or law school, graduate programs are a serious financial investment.

If you’re like many parents, the desire to give your son or daughter the tools they need to succeed is now in a no-holds-barred competition with the balance in your bank account. This article will offer practical tips for parents who may feel conflicted about helping their students pay for grad school.

Start by Being Supportive...

Maybe you’re not sure graduate school is the best idea for your student (or maybe you’re downright opposed to it). If your student ask for your opinion, you should be honest. However, as a college graduate, they now need to chart their own course in life, even if that course diverges from your own plans for them. It’s important then that you show support. Of course, this doesn’t have to mean financial support. Moral support, while perhaps not what they requested, can still go a long way, especially for young adults who are making big decisions for the first time.

…While Also Being Realistic

If you decide to help, make sure it’s not going to bankrupt you. Graduate school can be expensive. Don’t put your desire to help ahead of what you can realistically afford, especially if retirement is now on the not-so-distant horizon.

Another thing to keep in mind is the length of your student’s program. Are they enrolling in a short-term master’s program, or aspiring to a doctoral degree? The length of their study will affect how much support they need.

Ask for a Detailed Post-Graduation Plan

If you do plan on helping your student pay for grad school, you should make sure that they have a clear plan after graduation. Do they have a specific career in mind or just a general field? How would a post-graduate degree help them achieve their goals? Your student should be able to answer these questions before you agree to fund all or a portion of their education.

Your student should also be able to present you with an estimate of the overall cost of their graduate degree. Do they plan to work while pursuing the degree? Is an online or hybrid degree an option?

Encourage Them to Seek Additional Financial Aid

Once you’re satisfied that your student has a clear plan, remind them that financial aid may be available. They should continue to fill out FAFSA applications, and while there are fewer scholarships available to graduate students, they should nevertheless do their research on how to pay for grad school. Encourage them to contact the financial aid office at their school, as well as the Admissions office for their program. There may be degree- or program-specific aid available.

Be Clear How Much You Can Help

If you do plan to help, be clear with your student about your contribution. All parents will have to decide how they want to lend their support, whether it’s money for tuition, fees, books, housing or all of the above. It’s best to communicate how you intend your money to be spent.

You should also set expectations. Is this a one-time contribution or ongoing assistance? Having defined boundaries will prevent stressful or awkward misunderstandings for your student as they progress towards their graduate degree.

Brian Soika is a writer and musician living in Los Angeles. He works in enrollment services at the USC Rossier School of Education and, as a dad to twin toddlers, is very tired.
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