Finding resources to pay for graduate school

For many recent graduates and young professionals, the prospect of paying for the graduate degree they are eager to pursue can be daunting, especially if they incurred large debts as undergraduates. But a surprising number of resources are available to help pay for graduate school education for the student who analyzes the costs carefully and does a thorough search of financial aid options.

These sources can include institutional support, and state and federal grant programs, but for accounting students, the best sources of funds are grant and scholarship programs supported by professional organizations. Students who are working either part time or full time are eligible for many of these awards. Employers who offer reimbursement programs are also a great resource.

In addition, taking advantage of education tax breaks including tax credits, the tuition tax deduction, and the interest deduction on student loans, benefits that are designed to meet the needs of students of all ages and incomes, can make a big difference in the final cost of a degree.

Before beginning the search for money the student should:

  • Calculate the costs, which can include tuition, commuting expenses, room and board, healthcare insurance, books, supplies, and technology fees.

  • Complete a Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA) form to determine eligibility for financial aid based on need. Note that each school has a different deadline for submission of the FAFSA and this deadline is usually earlier than deadlines for scholarship and grant applications.

    Graduate students should then begin their search for money at the school they plan to attend, keeping in mind that the most likely source of funds for accounting students will be professional associations.

    Institutional resources – the department

    The process of looking for graduate school grants and scholarships can differ from the process of seeking undergraduate financial aid, where the student might begin with the financial aid office for general university or college scholarships. A student beginning graduate study should investigate resources through the academic department or school that will grant the degree, according to a report on www.youngmoney.com.

    Departments award scholarships and also sponsor assistantships and paid internships if these fit into the applicant's plans. Grants might also be available through a university's graduate school of business.

    Professional association-sponsored scholarship and grant programs

    The accounting profession has made an enormous financial commitment to supporting the education of its future members. Accounting students can apply for numerous and varied scholarships and grant programs for both undergraduate and graduate study that are offered by state societies, professional associations, and foundations associated with the larger firms. Many of these programs are based on merit or on a combination of merit and need.

    The Illinois CPA Society, for example, has dozens of scholarships awarded by the CPA Endowment Fund of Illinois. Support comes from Illinois CPA Society members and their firms and organizations. All of the scholarship programs are restricted to students who are studying accounting and who are planning to become a CPA. Candidates must demonstrate a course of study which reflects a goal to sit for the CPA exam in Illinois, the Society says.

    The Illinois CPA Society Web site recommends that students keep in mind that they may be qualified to apply for more than one scholarship, and the application processes vary. Application deadlines also vary for professional association grants and scholarship programs.

    Eligibility
    Eligibility requirements for the Illinois CPA Society Accounting Scholarship Program Scholarships of up to $4,000 each are similar to requirements for many state society scholarship programs for accountants beginning a fifth year of study:

  • Four years of education completed by 8/31/08 with plans to take additional courses in 2008-'09 to meet the requirements to sit for the CPA exam.

  • Be a U.S. citizen, permanently residing in Illinois and enrolled in an Illinois college or university

  • Have 3.0/4.0 GPA or equivalent

  • Plan to sit for the CPA examination in Illinois within three years of application date, and demonstrate a course of study that reflects this goal.

    The Application Form
    Connecticut requires 150 credit hours of study for licensure, and among other awards, the State Society of CPA's Educational Trust Fund grants $3,000 to candidates who have already completed 120 hours and met other requirements, to help pay for the additional credit hours. Candidates are required to write an essay of 500 words on "The Future of the Accounting Profession." Applications should also include an official transcript, and a copy's of a Driver's License or proof of employment by a Connecticut CPA firm.

    AICPA Listing
    The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) lists the following professional and firm accounting scholarship sites on the Scholarships page of their Web site. This list does not include state societies but gives a sampling of the many organizations that are involved in supporting accounting education.

    American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
    American Woman's Society of CPAs
    Association of Certified Fraud Examiners
    BKD
    Ciuni & Panichi, Inc.
    Cohen & Company CPAs
    Consortium for Graduate Study in Management
    Deloitte Foundation
    Ernst & Young LLP
    Government Finance Officers Association
    Hispanic Scholarship Fund
    Kennedy and Coe, LLC
    KPMG Foundation
    National Association of Black Accountants
    National Conference of CPA Practitioners, Inc.
    National Society of Accountants
    PricewaterhouseCoopers
    RubinBrown
    Schenck Business Solutions
    UHY Advisors
    Virchow, Krause & Company, LLP
    Wiss & Company, LLP

    State financial aid

    States also support a range of scholarship, grant and loan programs. California and New York offer Regents scholarships based on merit. Most states require that the student submit FAFSA.

    Tuition reimbursement

    In 2003-2004, 21 percent of graduate students received tuition assistance from their employers, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Employer tuition reimbursement is tax-free up to $5,250, according to a report on Yahoo Finance.

    Most employers require that the student maintain a "B" average in order to qualify for tuition reimbursement, and some require that the student commit to remain with the employer for a certain period of time after they finish their study or return the tuition aid.

    Tax benefits

    Students with income from work are eligible for tax credits if their income or their parents' income is within a certain threshold. The Lifetime Learning Credit is a tax credit that is available for students continuing their studies into graduate school.

    Students or parents of students whose income exceeds the thresholds to qualify for the credit may claim a tuition tax deduction as an alternative to the credit. The income thresholds for the tuition tax deduction are higher than they are for the credit. In addition, individuals might qualify for a deduction of interest on student loans.

    Federal loan programs

    Many graduate students will have to borrow a small amount of money even when they have been able to pull together support from the various sources listed. Federal subsidized loans are the most economical, but students who are working full time do not qualify for federal subsidized loans.

    If the institution participates in the Federal Direct Student Loan program, students can borrow directly from the federal government. Alternatively, students can choose their own lenders. Students are cautioned to shop carefully for loans and compare costs.

    While finding ways to pay for a degree can be very time-consuming, particularly when award and scholarship programs require detailed application forms including essays, reducing the burden of education debt significantly increases the long term value of an advanced degree.

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