Graduate students can, of course, take advantage of flexible repayment and consolidation options. In addition, some teachers, lawyers, and doctors may be able to have their grad school debt forgiven through state and federal loan repayment assistance programs.
For teachers. Teachers who work in schools that serve low-income students for five years can have all of their Perkins loan debt forgiven; some may qualify to have portions of their Stafford loan debt forgiven. In addition, many states will repay the loans of teachers who commit to subject areas with teacher shortages, such as math, science, or foreign language; to working in special education; or to going into low-income-area schools. Under California's Assumption Program of Loans for Education, for example, teachers who serve for four years in such underserved areas in California public schools turn as much as $19,000 of their student loan debt over to the state.
For lawyers. More than 70 schools, 50 employers, and eight states offer loan repayment assistance to lawyers who practice public interest law for a nonprofit agency or who work as government prosecutors or public defenders. Among law schools, loan repayment assistance programs (LRAP) vary dramatically. Those with meager budgets may offer such programs only to a handful of students, may offer relatively small loans or grants, or may cap eligibility at salaries of $35,000 or less. Institutions with ample resources, like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and New York universities, can afford to offer loan repayment help to more graduates, and to graduates with higher salaries (up to $82,000 at Harvard, for instance). Be aware that you may have to repay some or all of an LRAP loan if you leave your public interest job during the course of a year, and you may cease to be eligible if your income rises over a certain amount.
For doctors. Doctors who agree to practice certain kinds of medicine where there are shortages or who work in underserved areas of the country can qualify to have significant portions of their debt forgiven. Through the National Health Service Corps, for instance, doctors practicing primary care medicine in underserved areas can have up to $50,000 of debt repaid by the federal government during a two-year minimum service commitment. An additional $35,000 a year in debt repayment is available to doctors who sign up for a third or fourth year of service. Many states have similar debt repayment programs for doctors who live or are licensed in the state and who practice primary care medicine in state. A listing of state programs is available at the website of the Association of American Medical Colleges (www.aamc.org/students/financing/repayment).
Full-time graduate students who have financial need and who don't have an assistantship may be awarded a work-study job as part of their financial aid package. An award of $1,000 to $3,000 a year is typical, and covers the pay for 10 hours to 15 hours of work a week. Pay can range anywhere from $5.15 (the federal minimum wage) to $14.75 an hour, depending on the job and the job market where your school is located. Most jobs are on campus, although some schools place a small percentage of students with not-for-profit organizations off campus. (Full-time law and med school students are often discouraged from working in addition to their studies, but work-study jobs are available to those who feel they can handle it.) A job as a resident assistant in an undergraduate dorm is another option. The position usually includes tuition remission and a stipend.