Calculating the Cost of Graduate School

How Much Does Grad School Cost?

Graduate school can be extremely expensive, which is one of the main reasons that some people choose not to go. Although completing a grad program can help you improve career prospects, develop new marketable skills and provide substantial boosts to your income, the up-front cost of graduate school is still a major barrier to entry for some students.

During the process of selecting a graduate program, make sure that you complete enough research to accurately estimate the cost of grad school. Factor expenses like tuition rates and financing options into a formula that you can use to help determine which schools you will actually apply to, based on the affordability of their programs.

Look to decrease your graduate school costs by leveraging assistantships, scholarships, grants or other forms of financial assistance, but remember that most of these streams of financial assistance are not guaranteed. When figuring out how much graduate school costs, don’t forget to factor in living expenses like gas, food, rent and other expenses when putting together your total estimate.

To help you find out how much graduate school costs we’ve put together this helpful guide. Following these simple steps will allow you to determine an accurate price of graduate school programs you’re interested in applying to, as long as you make sure to include each of the following elements as line items in your calculations:

Tuition Costs

Take a close look at each graduate programs tuition rate information. Typically, you can find tuition rates by credit, by the hour, or by program on a school’s website. First off, you’ll need to find out how long it will take to complete the graduate program you intend to apply to, so that you can determine total tuition costs to earn your degree.

Secondly, look for protection from inflation by finding out if the school offers a tuition guarantee which will protect you from having to pay higher tuition rates each year as the costs increase. Don’t assume that tuition will remain flat, as tuition rates for professional programs have jumped by 60% in the last decade alone!

Compare and contrast the tuition rates of graduate programs you’re considering to see which one best fits into your expected budget. Tuition is likely to be the biggest factor in determining whether or not you can afford graduate school, as it will be the bulk of your educational expense, so be sure that you know exactly what the total tuition price will be before you move on to the next step.

School Fees

Some schools levy fees on top of tuition expenses, with costs associated for things like parking spaces, library access, graduation ceremonies, receiving a copy of your degree and other administrative line items that can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars per year.

Make sure that the school you’re planning on attending isn’t pulling a bait and switch tactic to reduce the appearance of their costs by offering a low tuition rate, but piling a ton of fees and other hidden expenses on top of it.

Virtually every grad school will levy fees for administrative costs like printing transcripts, mailing things, and allowing you to apply for their programs, but some try to nickel and dime their way into profitability. Don’t bleed your bank account dry by attending a school that has too many associated fees.


Although some scholarships and grants do exist specifically to cover  book costs, many graduate students are forced to completely fund their textbook costs on their own, and these are not trivial expenses.

Books may not sound like they would cost that much, especially if you haven’t been to college in a while, but if you’ve recently come from an undergraduate program then you’re likely well aware that the price of books for each class can easily (and most likely will) top $100.

Graduate school textbooks are virtually guaranteed to be substantially more expensive than books you’d read for pleasure, so don’t neglect to factor their expense into your estimate of graduate school costs, or you could be caught blindsided when it comes time to actually paying for them!

Equipment Costs

Depending on the subject matter of your studies, don’t forget that you could be required to purchase other necessary course materials like a laptop, computer software, advanced calculator or even chemistry supplies which will significantly add to the cost of your graduate program.

These expenses can add up pretty quickly, especially if you require technical equipment or sophisticated computer software, so make sure to include the projected costs for any related equipment while planning out your budget. If this particular line item ends up being the one that drives your program costs out of reach, look for need-based scholarships and grants to cover their expense.

Living Costs

Living costs can be one of the most expensive elements of attending graduate school, especially if you choose a graduate program that is in a city or area where the cost of living is high. Try to estimate your living costs by combining rent for accommodations, expected cost of food, transport, clothing and entertainment.

It might be helpful to separate these into sub-categories and trying to break things down further, like including a section for Transportation Costs with subsections for Car Insurance, Car Maintenance, Gasoline Expenses, or Bus Tickets, Subway Tickets, etc.

Don’t forget to take living costs into account, because even little things like a daily commute by bus or train can quickly accumulate into staggering annual expenses, driving grad school costs into the stratosphere.

Lost Income

Unless you’re considering attending grad school online (which will allow you to maintain or get a full-time job) you’ll likely have to give up your regular income while studying, which is essentially an added cost of attending grad school.

Many students work part-time jobs, complete work-study programs or serve on assistantships, but some are forced to focus entirely on their graduate studies and rely on other means of income (like credit cards and student loans) to fund day to day living expenses. You’ll want to avoid relying on outside financing for daily living expenses at all costs, as doing so is a recipe for financial disaster.

Be sure to account for the loss of income you’ll be faced with (if any) while calculating the expected cost of your program, and if it looks like you won’t have enough to scrape by, think about delaying going to grad school for a later date when you’ve saved up enough money to cover your expected daily expenses.

Student Loans

Before you can finish the budgeting process, you’ll have to factor the costs of acquiring any student loans into your educational expenses. Remember, some student loans require a down payment to get access to money, while others are offered with no up-front costs, but all of them have financing charges in the form of interest attached.

Determine what your monthly and annual payments will be once you’ve graduated from your degree program and estimate whether or not your income will allow you to even make those monthly payments. The worst thing you could possibly do would be to take on a huge amount of student loan debt, graduate from a program that doesn’t provide reliable job prospects and end up defaulting on your student loan debt because of it.

Can You Afford Graduate School?

By planning ahead, attending a less expensive program, locking in some scholarships and grants, taking out student loans, then doing everything possible to reduce daily living expenses, just about everyone can afford to go to graduate school. However, make sure that you don’t just automatically assume that you can afford to pay for the cost of graduate school without calculating it out in advance, as that’s a sure-fire way to put yourself into a financially impossible situation.

To really think long-term, perhaps a more important question than whether or not you can afford grad school right now, is whether or not you can afford it in the long-run. To determine whether or not attending a graduate program is really worth it, you’ll have to calculate your expected return on investment.