As hordes of applicants mob the few good job openings in a recession, it takes ever more qualifications to stand out from the crowd. And, unfortunately, it takes ever more money these days to fund the graduate courses that upgrade a job seeker's skills and résumé.
It will probably only get worse. Budget cuts and endowment declines are expected to drive up tuition and reduce aid for graduate students in 2009. Deans of professional programs in areas such as business, engineering, and library science warn applicants hoping simply to boost their careers that grants and fellowships will be in short supply in 2009. In addition, as the unemployment rate rises, fewer employers feel the need to offer sweeteners such as graduate tuition assistance.
What's more, most professional grad programs are so intense that, especially in the first year, deans typically warn against trying to raise cash by working part time, a common strategy for funding undergraduate degrees.
But financing grad school is still possible, says William Gray, who persuaded his employer, PRTM Management Consultants, to subsidize his M.B.A. studies at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. True, it took Gray several years of hard work to find and impress such a generous employer. But, he says, "I know for a fact that more people could do this."
They could indeed, thanks to some generous new loan programs, protected funding for top students, and growing competition for students that may provide lower-cost options for study.
Thanks, also, to many long-established aid programs. The military and state and federal health agencies are expected to continue offering assistance to those willing to serve a few years in jobs that need filling. Some graduate programs will still award at least partial financial aid for students who qualify as having very low income on either FAFSA or Need Access. Top students, especially those interested in research, will get assistantships or stipends covering tuition and minimal living costs. And many schools, especially private institutions, will offer partial tuition scholarships (essentially discounts) to students who they think will bring something special.
Grad school deans say there are a few tricks to improving your chances of getting financial help in these hard times: