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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

Going to Grad School? Start Your Budget Now

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If you’re planning to head back to grad school, you probably have a lot on your mind—not the least of which is how to afford tuition and living expenses on a reduced income. Unless you’re going back to school part-time (or are extra fortunate in that your employer or school is footing the bill), it’s going to be an adjustment to go back to a student budget.

That doesn’t mean you have to make it through your program on ramen alone, though. By determining your anticipated expenses in advance, you can better prepare to afford them.

To help you get started, we’ve updated The Muse Budget Template just for grad students. Read on to see what you need to take into account, both by month and by year, then build your budget by using the spreadsheet.

Tuition (Plan Annually)

First, the big one. Your tuition costs will depend on your program and school. For instance, if you choose one of the top 10 business schools for your MBA studies, you can expect to pay over $50,000 per year, whereas if you’re choosing a top 10 school for engineering, you have less costly options. Also remember that tuition tends to rise each year, so you may want to budget more for the later years in your program than you do for the first.

Your school may have additional financial resources for you as well, such as fellowships, scholarships, and stipends for research or teaching. Make a note of both cost and income involved in your specific program.

Books and Supplies (Plan Annually)

These will also vary depending on your program of study, but your department or program can likely share an estimate of what you should expect to spend. But also look beyond the bare necessities: Do you need a new computer? (Or would you be able to replace your current one if it goes down while you’re working on your dissertation?) What about additional study guides or software?

Housing (Plan Monthly)

Especially if you’re moving to a new city, you’ll need to do some research about what an accurate housing budget will be. What can you expect to pay—and what will that get you? Do you want to live in student housing or off-campus? Alone or with a roommate? Check out your school’s website for housing resources in the area, and don’t discount roommate search sites or Craigslist.

Utilities (Plan Monthly)

Check with your new landlord to find out which utilities are included and what you’ll need to chip in extra for. Don’t forget your cell phone and internet bills!

Transportation (Plan Monthly)

How will you get around? Your transportation budget might look different than it does now if you’re moving: In the city, you can rely on public transportation, biking, or walking; in the suburbs, you probably want a car.

Healthcare (Plan Monthly)

Do you have insurance already, or can you get it through your school? Estimate how much you can expect to spend on insurance, then also budget for doctor and dentist visits and prescriptions.

Debt (Plan Monthly)

Do you have debt you need to tackle? While you may be able to defer some of your undergraduate loans, you’ll still have to pay on any private loans or credit card bills.

Groceries and Eating Out (Plan Monthly)

Even if you don’t currently keep a strict budget, you likely have a rough idea of how much you spend on groceries and eating out each week. Unless you’re moving to a region with a higher or lower cost of living, this number should remain consistent. Keep in mind, though, that a busier schedule may make you rely on more fast food and to-go coffee, which will have effects on your wallet.

Shopping and Other (Plan Monthly)

Don’t forget the other miscellaneous expenses that are unique to you! Decide how much you can reasonably budget for expenses like clothes, household items, entertainment, and travel.

Add it Up!

Now that you have your budget outlined, it’s time to decide how you’ll afford those expenses.