Making your financial plan

With the bulk of this year’s admissions decisions recently released, it’s time to be thinking about a financial strategy for grad school. Our hope, in fact, is that applicants planning on fall 2019 enrollment have already been working on this for some time, at least conceptually. Pointing out that U.S. higher education is a significant investment is as obvious as noting that Samuel L. Jackson wasn’t pulling for Green Book to win Best Picture. As such, it’s crucial to think expansively about potential sources of funding.

Our website has quite a bit of information on financial planning, including cost breakdowns and educational loan options, and I won’t recreate it all here. The main point I’d like to underscore is that a “portfolio” strategy is by far the most common way our students finance their education. It’s extremely unusual for a single funding source to cover the full costs of attendance. Much more common is to rely on a variety of smaller funding streams that together can meet expenses, including scholarships (both Fletcher awards and external scholarships), educational loans, part-time work, personal or family contributions, and the Tufts Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP). What these options look like for you can depend on your personal circumstances and background. External scholarships, for example, will have a variety of eligibility criteria. Many are open only to applicants from a certain country or region, to those with a particular professional background or goal, or to members of any number of under-represented populations. Others are available to anyone. Educational loans likewise will have different eligibility and terms. U.S. federal educational loans, for example, are available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents, and offer several different repayment plans. Other educational loans, whether private, non-profit-based, or (non-U.S.) government-sponsored, will have their own criteria. The earlier you research these options to understand which are available to you and best fit your personal circumstances, the more solid a financial foundation you’ll build.

A hard reality of making a financial plan is that it’s rare to graduate debt-free, and having that as your goal may result in disappointment. It is entirely possible, though, to keep educational debt to a manageable, tolerable, and responsible level, and doing so typically requires multiple funding streams. On our end, we will always try to direct applicants to as many useful external funding opportunities as we can. In addition to the resources listed on our website, we’ll make announcements throughout the academic year for a number of competitive supplemental scholarships to which many students can apply. We also want to help you plan as much as possible; I’ll underscore that Fletcher scholarships are guaranteed renewable for students’ second year of study (provided students remain fully enrolled at Fletcher). While it’s true that full scholarships are rare and that some people wish their award were higher, our hope is that having a clear amount of scholarship funding upon which applicants know they can rely and plan around for two years will help in making a sound financial plan.

It’s imperative to avoid an “I’ll just roll the dice and hope things work out” mentality. You should research the details of all of the above to be clear on your options, but you should also do some honest personal accounting to determine your own tolerance for risk and the level of investment you’re willing and able to make, something that’s different for each applicant. I’ll end here more or less where I began, encouraging applicants to think of grad school as an investment rather than a purchase. I remember from my own student days how the mental calculus is overwhelmingly geared toward getting through the next two years, and that needs to be an obvious focus. Anyone who opens a mutual fund, or buys a house or car, though, balances the immediate costs with the longer-term return on investment. In ten or more years that fund should be growing nicely, the car should (or could) still be running, and the house will have become a home. A grad school investment is similar, and is about much more than the two years you’ll physically spend here. Those two years, and where you end up directly thereafter, are legitimate shorter-term concerns that deserve your attention, but so do longer-term considerations. What sometimes gets lost in the immediacy of planning is that two years at Fletcher is just the entry point into a lifelong community membership. The skills you learn, the people you meet, and the relationships you form can continue to define your professional and personal trajectory long after your student days are behind you.

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