How do professional school students afford living expenses?

Ages ago, I graduated from professional school with a mountain of debt (even with some generous scholarships). This was the norm for my class. We were all expected to make enough to pay it off- eventually.

There are often school and private loans available, but, yes, it is very difficult. DH went to a top school for his MBA and lived like a pauper those years, as did many of his classmates. The poor starving grad student is no myth.

There also not a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow either. Unless you can stay put for a while after you get a job in your field, there are more hands out for money. Relocation expenses are tremendous , and even with reimbursement, which is not always the case, you have to foot those bills.

Those of us who do not have family financial support are not on a level playing field. I’m helping my youngest get started on his first post college job, and my credit card is feeling it. No way he could afford these move on his own. A number of his classmates moved back with parents and are living there until they can save enough to get their own places. Others have stayed in the area of the college because of the support system there, staying with friends and former classmates , again, until they can save up enough to relocate.

You need to review the ount of money that you can borrow as a graduate student through the federal student loan system. It was my understanding that it was possible to borrow up to the full stated Cost of Attendance. I have friends who did that, but perhaps their programs were less expensive than yours.

few professional schools give need-based aid. Most students just borrow thru the Grad Plus program. With no family backing, you might have to borrow the full COA. Or, choose a less expensive school.

Yes, Grad Plus is what most grad students borrow to cover their costs. Some schools will put it in the aid notification, while others don’t package it … but it’s still an option. However, Grad Plus requires that the borrower doesn’t have “bad” credit.

Most have to borrow. My oldest is. She’s less than thrilled, but it’s what most people do. She worked a few years before professional school and so could get a private loan with no cosigner, a lower interest rate than the grad plus, and no origination fee. Normally, and especially for undergrads, I think private loans border on evil, but in this case it made sense. Some places give better rates/more favorable terms for students in health fields. You may be able to qualify for those in optometry.

It’s getting tighter, IMO, for grad programs. My friend’s DD did not get any stipend or paid internships until she was in the PHD part of her PsychD program. She borrowed and family supported her. She could not have done it without parental support because that was the bulk of it, since she was in a very expensive city without any family nearby to help. All her aid was in form of money from parents.

I was relieved thT my son was rejected from the masters programs in humanities he wanted. I felt it was not a good at all and we were not going to fund it. Neither do the universities.


This post is asking about “professional school” students. I took that to be medical, dental, law schools.

Those students cannot work while in their professional school programs (although in law school, some do get paid internships in the summers).

To the OP…some students do receive some kind of financial aid to help with their costs. Anything not covered by financial aid is covered by loans, loans and more loans…UNLESS there are family members who are willing to chip in for these costs.


Did you complete a FAFSA form? If so, you are eligible for unsubsidized Direct Loans up to a certain amount. You are also eligible to take Grad Plus Loans up to the cost of attendance (which includes living expenses). If you have completed the FAFSA, contact your financial aid office to indicate you want these loans (if you do).

Professional school students can borrow up to $20,500/year in unsubsidized federal loans. You’ll need to fill out FAFSA to become eligible for these loans.

Besides the federal direct loans, professional school students can borrow up to the school’s published Cost of Attendance (which includes giving expenses) though Grad Plus loans. Grad Plus requires that applicants have good credit.

The OP should contact the Financial Aid office at his professional program. They will be able to help walk him/her through the application process.

To pay for her double degree MBA and MS (environmental studies), my daughter took loans, mainly Federal Direct Loans. The interest rates were usurious. Once she got into the economy she was able to make a small dent in the outstanding amount but the interest rates were absurdly high (if I recall correctly, 7.65% APR on the Federal Direct Loans), and she could barely reduce the balance due.

Finally, after a year of our daughter making payments while living paycheck to paycheck, we came to her rescue. We had fallen into some money from an inheritance; our first expenditure from that was to bail our daughter out of debt. Since then she has been totally self-supporting, while living in a high cost location. She has been able to develop an interesting career.

Correction. I should have made clear in my post above that we paid our daughter’s rent and a monthly expense allowance (to cover books , food, and incidentals) when she was in her professional program. She used loans (and a small scholarship) to pay for her tuition and fees.

My oldest son being his masters program in Sept. He opted to apply to local schools only so he could move back home. Honestly it would be extremely difficult if not impossible for him to go to school full time and work in his chosen field. He is currently eligible for for loans through FAFSA, for cost of school only (no living expenses). We have also spoken with his go to person at the new university and she highly recommended applying for a TA position to help defray the cost of school.
If he opts to continue school for his Phd, due to the nature of research he would be doing, he would receive a stipend that pays cost of living plus any school/research fees.

This student is in optometrist school. This is not a masters. It’s a doctor of optometry. His income will be decent. Many OD students use federally funded loans.

I believe this is accurate…

This pertains to the Direct Loans available to this group.

You would have to check to see if optometry students are in this group…they are a health professional…but check.

Grad Plus lets you borrow up to the COA. Pretty sure OD program is part of this. Students take up to the maximum direct loan first and then add in Grad Plus as needed.

D1 is in dental school. She has used the direct loan to cover tuition/fees, plus some of her remaining 529. We have funded her living expenses. 3rd year will be more and she will have to take Grad Plus for this.

OP—go immediately to your FA office in your school and get this worked out. Loans are available up to COA; this includes money for living expenses. It’s hard to work full or part-time while in professional school.

Absolutely OD program students can take Grad Plus.

My question was about OD program students being able to take $40,500 per year in Direct Loans.

Talk to your school’s FA office. You should be able to take out Fed Direct loans…and if that’s not enough to cover COA, then Grad Plus will be offered.

Yes, fed loan interest rates are terrible. I hope reform will slash all existing and new loans to about 2%.

That said, those with high debt and who are out of college can look into refinancing them at lower rates.

Federal loans have other benefits at least now. The repayment plans, for example, like income based repayment, are not available with other loans.

But that is a digression. As mentioned…ask your financial aid office what to do to get the loans you need…assuming you completed a FAFSA