Mouna Derose came to the United States from Morocco naive about how to pay for college. An academic scholarship mostly paid for her master's degree in clinical psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago. But once she entered the university's clinical psychology PsyD program, her scholarship ended-and tuition, textbooks and living expenses were adding up quickly. She knew she needed a plan to avoid sinking thousands of dollars into debt.
So she went to work.
Derose landed a part-time job at the campus library working 20 hours a week. She could then take advantage of her university's tuition remission program, which provides a tuition break to university employees.
In her case, as a part-timer, she was able to get three-credit hours free each semester-an $1,800 savings per semester. So far, Derose's move has helped keep her student loan debt in her third year of the program to a manageable $3,000; she relies on her husband's income for living expenses.
"I wish I didn't have to work," Derose says. "But I look at the amount of debt some of my colleagues are facing, and I know I don't want to go through that."
Pointing to examples like Derose's, financial advisers say that one way to avoid piling on hefty student debt is to get a job-such as teaching or research assistantships or a part-time job at a restaurant or store.
A balancing act
Balancing a job and coursework can be a challenge for working students. For example, during the day, Luis Felipe Morales works full time as an administrative assistant at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Fusion Science and Technology Center. In the evenings, he attends clinical psychology graduate courses at Pepperdine University. His job at UCLA-which pays $40,000 a year-allows him to make student loan payments so he can pay on the accruing interest, even though his loans are in deferral while he takes classes.
"Coming into graduate school, I knew I would have loans," Morales says. "It takes a lot of time to work 40 hours a week plus nine semester units, but if you want to be a psychologist, you have to do what it requires. For me, it requires keeping my job and going to school at night."
But, juggling a full course load and finding enough energy to also squeeze in a job can be difficult. That's why some programs discourage students from taking on a job while they are in school full time. Be sure to check with programs about their work policies while you are applying and, once there, have a discussion with your adviser if you plan to work, faculty advisers recommend.
Gaining valuable work experience
Michael Proulx's cognitive psychology doctoral program at Johns Hopkins University requires students to agree not to work while in the program. Instead, they serve in teaching and research assistantships for the department. In exchange, they receive full tuition funding and a stipend for living expenses.
Proulx says the stipend allows him to focus on his studies without having to hold a job on the side.
As an undergraduate at Arizona State University, he struggled to manage his debt since he paid the costs on his own. He worked in food services at the university's student union to defray some costs. But in his second year, he decided to forgo that job so he could do behavioral coding and physiology measures for a developmental psychology research lab.
The problem: He didn't get paid for the job, so his student loan debt began to increase.
"I thought it was a long-term trade off," Proulx says. "In the short term, I would rack up more debt in student loans. But on the other side, I was so excited that I got to do something I so thoroughly enjoyed and that could turn into a career for me. That was worth taking on more debt."
The job, however, soon turned into a part-time, paid position so Proulx was able to pay down some of his student loans while gaining valuable work experience in the field.
Likewise, psychology student Stephen Hampe, the practice member-at-large for the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS), is getting a head start in teaching by working as a full-time high school science teacher at Lower East Side Prep in Manhattan. He also teaches educational psychology courses online through Southern New Hampshire University. He uses the jobs to help curb some of his $60,000 student loan debt.
"I've heard a lot from my APAGS colleagues on how it is unbelievably difficult to eke out a living waiting for a financial aid check to arrive," says Hampe, a clinical psychology doctoral student at Capella University. "I have a family, I live in New York City, and I've had to take out a loan to help pay for tuition. But by being able to work too, I don't have to live off peanut butter."