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5 Ways Students Can Balance Family, Grad School Costs

Decide on a reasonable timeline for graduation and budget carefully to balance family with grad school.

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Philip DiComo got a big surprise during law school when his wife­—also a graduate student at the time—experienced a long-hoped-for pregnancy. Not only did DiComo have to balance school and a growing family, he had work commitments as well: DiComo, a vice president at a local West Palm Beach television station, had decided he would continue to work during school. 

"Maybe there was less sleep, but it was important to me to continue to live up to my work requirements," he says. 

Following are some tips on how to balance time, money, and family for grad school students who have children. 

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1. Set reasonable expectations: DiComo decided he wasn't going to shoot for the top grades in the class so he could meet all his obligations. His classmates, "many of whom were not working or did not have kids," worried a great deal about academics, he says. 

"Don't add to your stress by creating unreasonable expectations about yourself" or your partner, he says. "When I started law school I told myself that I would be okay just doing average. Turns out that being realistic helped me to relax, know my own limitations and I actually did incredibly well." 

Patrick S. Osmer, vice provost of graduate studies and dean of the graduate school at Ohio State University recommends students with families set realistic timelines for graduation. He says students should ask themselves "Given your job and family, what does your path toward your degree need to look like? Should you be in a part-time program or full-time? Is there flexibility?" 

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2. Look at all options for childcare: Look at all childcare options such as family, discounted childcare on campus, and coordinating work schedules with your spouse. According to a 2012 report from Child Care Aware of America, the cost of child care preschool averages between $4,000 and upwards of $13,000 per year, depending on the state. 

DiComo had family help and coordinated work hours with his spouse. His mother-in-law stayed with them for a few months and his "wife also had a very flexible job at the time and was actually able to bring our daughter to work with her during the first year and a half after she was born." 

However, the couple was unprepared for pre-school expenses, both the cost of the schools and supplies, he says. Parents should ask as early as possible what supply and field trips costs are throughout the year, experts say. 

3. Don't forget to claim tax credits and deductions: Parents who are students can claim both education tax credits and deductions, as well child tax benefits. "Be sure to take advantage of additional tax deductions and/or benefits available to you, says Ryan Law, director of University of Missouri's Office for Financial Success. The America Opportunity Credit offers up to a $2,500 tax credit. However for parents "there are dependent exemptions, child tax credits, and deductions for child and dependent care expenses," Law says. 

4. Borrow what you need, but don't forget to budget: DiComo funded his post-grad education with loans, borrowing a bit high to confirm he could cover the extra expenses that can arise from having a child. "My post-grad education was entirely funded by loans, and I guess I did borrow on the high side so that I knew I could cover extra those expenses," he says "I think the bigger issue was cutting out other expenses, which I think all new parents must do." 

There are lots of ways to do that. "It's always easier to start cutting out the little things first. You know, go to a matinee if you go to the movies. Go to a free art fair," DiComo says. "Once you have children you realize there are all kinds of low-cost activities you can find that you never realize existed before you had children." 

[Learn how to use college savings for grad school.]

5. Think ahead for future costs: What children need as one-year-olds isn't what they need at 18 months. Parents should plan accordingly. 

"As they grow they wear out or grow out of clothes quickly, and they eat a lot!" Law says. "You may also need to plan additional money for lessons, piano, baseball, gymnastics, etc. You also need to plan for a car seat and stroller and depending on how many children you have, a larger vehicle. There will also be costs for doctor visits." 

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Graduate School center.