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So, you’ve realized that in order to make the kind of impact in the lives of others you hope to make, you need a master’s degree. You’re in good company. A 2017 study conducted by student loan company Sallie Mae and Ipsos, the world’s third-largest market research company, found that two-thirds of the students surveyed believe that a graduate degree is the new minimum standard for professional careers.

You’ve decided that a Master of Science in Counseling and Human Services gives you the chance to focus on an area you’re especially passionate about, such as alcohol and drug counseling or nonprofit management. Your commitment to obtaining two more years of schooling is strong, but where will the money come from?

Well, findings from the Sallie Mae study, “How America Pays for Graduate School,” show:

  • $24,812 – the average amount spent for graduate school
  • 77% – costs paid by students
  • 53% – costs covered by student borrowing
  • 47% – percentage of grad students with at least one federal loan

Federal loans and programs for graduate students

While graduate students are not eligible for Direct Subsidized Loans or Pell Grants, you do qualify for other important government loans and programs.

You probably remember your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from your undergraduate years. You need to fill out a new one every year that you attend graduate school. Your school uses this information to determine your eligibility for federal, state, and school aid.

The Sallie Mae study found that 64 percent of grad students filed a FAFSA for the 2016-2017 school year. And each school that accepts your application sends you a financial aid package that outlines the estimated cost of attendance (COA) and the amount of financial aid you’re eligible for from all sources.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans (or “Unsubsidized Stafford Loans”) are the most commonly used financing vehicle for grad school attendance. These low-cost, fixed-rate federal student loans aren’t based on financial need or creditworthiness.

Although Stafford Loan interest rates may change from year to year because they’re based on the 10-year Treasury note, your rate is guaranteed for the life of your loan. You may borrow up to $20,500 per year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans to attend graduate school. You’ll pay a loan fee that’s deducted from your disbursement, so you end up receiving a bit less than the amount you apply for. Interest starts to accumulate on your loan as soon as it’s paid out to you.

Direct PLUS Loans are provided by the U.S. Department of Education. Graduate students with a good credit history may borrow up to the maximum cost of attendance, including reasonable living costs, as determined by the school minus any other financial aid received. This rate is also fixed for the life of the loan.

Federal Work-Study is an important benefit for many students, especially in light of the Sallie Mae survey findings that 24 percent of graduate program costs are covered by student earnings in the form of income and savings. Students with a demonstrated financial need receive assistance in the form of on- or off-campus job opportunities to help cover school expenses.

Download your guide to learn everything you need to know about earning a counseling & human services master’s degree online.

Awards, scholarships, and grants

“15 percent of (graduate school) costs are covered by grants, scholarships, fellowships, and tuition waivers,” according to Sallie Mae. The first thing to do is check with the financial aid office of your prospective school to determine if you’re eligible for merit-based, returning student, or Post Scholars Scholarships.

Then, put your best online research skills to work and surf the internet for “scholarships for human services majors.” There are hundreds, if not thousands, of awards and scholarships available for people just like you that can help reduce the financial burden of earning your degree and let you make your contribution to society without a load of debt weighing on you for years.

Do you have a special niche area of interest? Check out scholarships targeted by sector:

Stephen J. Brady Stop Hunger Scholarships: Administered through the Sodexo Foundation, these scholarships “are granted for $5,000 annually for students aged 25 and under who have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to human services by performing unpaid volunteer services helping the fight to end hunger in America. Qualified U.S. residents who impress the judges with their compassionate service work during the past year will also receive a matching grant of $5,000 to donate to the hunger-related charity of their choosing.”

Scott and Paul Pearsall Scholarship: Through the American Psychological Foundation (APF), this scholarship “is awarded annually for $10,000 to outstanding graduate students in human services who are conducting research to increase the public’s knowledge of the psychological pain and stigma experienced by individuals with physical disabilities.”

Private education loans

Also known as Alternative Education Loans, these can often be a way to help bridge the gap between the actual cost of your education and what the government allows you to borrow. It’s usually best to explore private loans only after you’ve exhausted your eligibility for federal student loans and sought out free money through scholarships and grants.

You typically need great credit or a creditworthy cosigner to qualify for the best rates and terms. Sallie Mae’s Smart Option Student Loan is one of the most popular graduate loan programs. You’re able to choose the type of interest rate and repayment option that work best for you. “If you’re highly qualified, you may receive a lower interest rate than with a Federal PLUS Loan for Graduates,” notes Sallie Mae. You can compare graduate student loan options here.

Lastly: Remember PSLF

Sallie Mae’s survey found that 49 percent of students with federal loans expect them to be forgiven. Want to be in that group? To qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), use your master’s degree to work for a “public service” employer. The Department of Education defines this as:

  • “Government organizations: This includes federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies and organizations.
  • Not-for profit organizations: This includes all 501(c)(3) organizations and some other not-for-profit organizations that provide specific public services, such as public education or public health.”

Here’s a great piece from the Department of Education that explains the PSLF requirements very clearly.

At Post University, our financial aid expert are trained to help you find the best financing solution for your graduate degree program, including our 100 percent online Master of Science in Counseling and Human Services. If you are ready to make your grad school dream a reality, contact one of our financial aid experts to explore all the scholarships, federal aid, grants, and loans that may be available to you. You might be surprised to learn that you qualify for more than you think.