By Mikaela Cohen

The decision to attend graduate school immediately after finishing my undergraduate degrees was not an easy decision. I was hesitant to jump into another degree program and prolong entering the workforce.

While the decision lingered, I listened to advice from various people in my life. One person told me, “Get your education while you’re young,” while another told me, “Experience in the field is worth more than a graduate degree.” A friend even told me, “Spend as much time in college as you can, because the real world sucks.”

I did more research as I contemplated the varying opinions. I learned that a graduate degree can potentially lead to a higher salary, and, according to the Harvard Business Review, 27% of employers now require a master’s degree for certain positions. With the prospect of making more money and securing a higher degree, graduate school looked promising.

Although, the decision still wasn’t easy after learning this because I knew I couldn’t afford graduate school without a substantial amount of financial aid.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2018 and 2019, the average cost of tuition and fees to attend graduate school at a public institution was $12,171. Coming from a financially disadvantaged background, I could not afford graduate school.

Ultimately, I decided to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Georgia solely because I had a graduate assistantship offer. A graduate assistantship is an employment opportunity where graduate students work, typically within their degree program, while in school. Work can include conducting research and teaching classes, and in return, students receive a stipend, and in many cases a tuition waiver.

My graduate assistantship is the sole reason I am able to attend graduate school.

In my case, I was offered an assistantship before applying for my graduate program. Most students may not find themselves in this situation, and it is always good to research available assistantships within the graduate school before applying.

Landing a graduate assistantship can also be difficult and competitive, and the best way to secure an assistantship is find specific professors who are offering assistantships within their college or department.

It is also wise to plan the exact costs of monthly expenses in graduate school and find additional money-making opportunities. Even though my assistantship waives tuition and provides a monthly stipend, I am no stranger to scholarship applications and additional part-time jobs.

My graduate school offers yearly scholarships for students, and I received a $1,000 scholarship before starting graduate school. While in graduate school, I’ve also worked part-time jobs across campus to help with expenses.

Similar to being an undergraduate student, living costs while in graduate school can add up relatively high. Monthly expenses like rent, water and electricity bills, internet access, streaming services, health insurance, a car payment, car insurance and groceries can amount to a large monthly expenditure.

With those expenses in mind, it is best to research and plan ahead before starting the graduate school application process.

Mikaela Cohen is a master’s student in journalism at the University of Georgia.