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The Financially Independent Grad Student

Updated: Jan 18

If you are considering graduate school, understand the FAFSA will not save you from acquiring student loan debt. Before my enrollment into Widener, I heard the typical advice of completing the FAFSA and applying for scholarships. The time dedicated to research, essay writing, and recommendation requests was not conducive to my schedule or interest. Therefore, I am writing to provide you with 10 ways to attain financial independence as a graduate student.


1. Work at your university

Depending on your course schedule, apply for full or part-time jobs at your university. The full-time benefits of tuition assistance or part-time income can significantly deduct your tuition balance. If working at your university is inconducive to your schedule, be intentional about researching companies offering tuition assistance. Walmart, Amazon, or businesses affiliated with the university can build professional networks and personal wealth. If tuition assistance is not offered with a potential place of employment, leverage your educational training to negotiate terms.

2. Credits matter

Academic advisors and university officials do not emphasize the flexibility of course credits. A tentative course schedule may be given during orientation week, but you have the discretion to decide when to register for specific classes. Especially when hundreds of dollars are associated with each credit, align your course schedule with educational and financial goals.

3. Inquire about the tuition payment plan

YOUR TUITION DOES NOT NEED TO BE PAID ALL AT ONCE! Inquiring about tuition payment plans provide a frame of reference for your weekly or monthly budget.

4. Download the old version of textbooks

Never purchase or rent new textbooks. In my experience, professors prompted me to buy books that would be skimmed over or repeated in a class lecture. To prioritize time and money, wait until the end of the first week of classes and review the syllabus before purchasing textbooks. If textbooks are required, download or check out older editions. Minor details separate the price value between older and recently published textbooks. Currently, I utilize Z library or reserve textbooks from a public or university library for graduate readings.

5. Apply for food stamps

As a result of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, SNAP eligibility access is available to students with an expected family contribution of $0 or participants of federal work-study programs. The completion of a FAFSA application determines eligibility. However, if you are eligible for $35 worth of food stamps in conflation with couponing and shopping at value-friendly stores, you can eat well on a budget.

6. Rules for self-care: Cashback, Discount, or Coupon

If you cannot receive cashback, a discount, or a coupon, it is not meant for you. As a grad student, you need to be intentional about self-care. Self-care is imperative to your success, but thoughtfully assess the frequency and capability of self-care activities. Think to yourself, can I prepare a movie and dinner at home? Maybe I can buy this item second-hand? Rakuten, Honey, and Groupon have been essential to my success in self-care budgeting.

7. All utilities included

Wherever you choose to live, strive to have all utilities included with your rent. If not, lower your rent price to account for utilities and miscellaneous expenses (renter's insurance, laundry, parking). Your living expenses should be no less than 30% of your income. If you are a student without income, research subsidized housing options or live with a roommate. But do not increase your expenses for a temporary lifestyle.

8. Buy secondhand

When decorating your living space or treating yourself, consider buying second-hand. I love eBay, Nextdoor, and Depop for clothing and living decor. If thrifting is not your style, persuade loved ones to invest in your hedonistic pleasures during celebrations or birthdays. This moment is temporary; therefore, buy what you need to make it yours.

9. Active streams of income

These income streams will not make you rich, but you can order an extra naan with your Indian lunch special. I specifically chose these income streams because the process is quick and the tasks are easy to complete in your free time.

  • Grocery delivery services: Shipt or Instacart

  • Psychological research studies

  • Usertesting

10. Cook what you order

It is easy to tell people to cook at home, but takeout is convenient for grad students. Hence, the next time you decide to travel to the grocery store, cook your takeout meal. With your knowledge of the order, you can cook in greater quantity with enhanced flavorings.


May these 10 tips guide you towards financial freedom!


In need of resume, cv, or scholarship assistance to help lower the cost of school? Consult with the Sensual Scientist for your graduate and professional needs!


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