Average higher education debt in 2022

Graduate degrees can do wonders for your career. They can make your resume stand out in a competitive job market, give you the skills to climb the corporate ladder, help you change industries and boost your salary.

But going to graduate school is expensive. The National Center for Education Statistics found that, on average, students accumulate more than $70,000 in student loans to pay for their education – a number that can reach up to six figures, depending on the program you choose. However, there are ways to limit these costs. Here’s what you need to know.

Key Statistics on Graduate Student Debt

  • The average cost of tuition and fees for graduate studies at public universities was $12,410 in the 2019-2020 academic year, while tuition and fees at private schools were $12,410. approximately $26,600.
  • The cost of higher education varies greatly from program to program. For example, in 2016-2017, Masters of Education students spent an average of $18,812 per year in school, while medical students spent twice that amount.
  • More than half of graduate students take out loans to pay for their education.
  • The average amount borrowed annually for higher education has more than doubled over the past two decades.
  • On average, graduate students in the United States leave school with about $71,000 in graduate student loans and $82,810 total in undergraduate and graduate student loans.
  • Student debt is more common among medical and law students than among other graduates. An estimated 75% of professional doctoral students (including medical and law students) graduate with student loans, compared to 60% and 48% of those who obtain master’s and research doctorates, respectively.
  • Public administration, social work, fine arts, and public policy are among the master’s degrees with the highest percentage of student borrowers.
  • Graduate students account for half of the nation’s outstanding student debt.

Average cost of higher education

The latest data released by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the average graduate student spends nearly $20,000 a year on tuition and fees. However, for graduate students attending private nonprofit schools, that number jumps to $28,430, while those attending public schools spend about $12,410.

But the type of institution you choose is not the only factor that determines how much you will spend on your higher education, as some programs cost much more than others.

Mary Morris, former chair of the board of the College Savings Foundation, explains that the reason behind this is simple: some programs simply cost more to teach than others.

She says to think about the costs of training a doctor, for example. The labs, technology, and equipment needed to deliver the curriculum are more expensive than, say, the materials required for fine arts training.

Average graduate student loan debt by degree

Because higher education is so expensive, most students have to fill the financial gap by taking out student loans. It’s become so common that the average annual amount borrowed for college more than doubled between 1994 and 2014, according to the Brookings Institution, and graduate students now account for half of the nation’s student loan debt.

When it comes to federal student loans, graduate students have two options:

  • Direct loans. With a Federal Direct Loan, graduate and professional students can borrow up to $138,500 (or up to $224,000 for medical school), with a fixed interest rate of 6.54% for 2022- 23 and an origination fee of 1.057%. Additionally, Federal Direct Loans don’t require you to pass a credit check, and almost anyone with a good academic record is eligible.
  • PLUS Graduate Loans. With a grad PLUS loan, you can borrow up to the full cost of attendance, as determined by your school. Unlike federal direct loans, grad PLUS loans require students to pass a credit check and currently have a fixed interest rate of 7.54% for 2022-23, plus an origination fee of 4.228%.

Students can also take out private student loans to pay for their education. However, these often have higher interest rates than federal student loans and offer fewer repayment protections and options.

Average graduate student loan debt by program

Most graduate students in the United States leave school with more than $70,000 in graduate debt, according to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics. But the amount students need to borrow varies greatly depending on the type of degree (masters or doctorate) and field of study.

For example, students who pursue a law degree get more than double the amount of student loans than those who choose a master’s degree in education.

Program Average student debt in 2015-2016
MBA $66,300
master of arts $72,800
Master of Education $55,200
Master of Science $62,300
PhD $98,800
Right $145,500
Medicine $246,000

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

How to reduce the cost of higher education

The cost of higher education has been steadily rising over the past decade, and with inflation at record highs, sticker prices aren’t going to drop anytime soon. Nonetheless, there are a few options to consider that can make your degree more affordable.

Find online or accelerated programs

Although some schools charge the same amount for their online and on-campus programs, others charge less for their online courses. For example, if you were to enroll in an online MBA program at Arizona State University, your tuition and fees for the 2022-23 academic year would be $23,044 if you are a resident student. But if you choose to pursue the MBA on campus, that amount would rise to $29,164.

Likewise, Morris says completing your degree faster can also save you “thousands” — and she’s right. A one-year in-person MBA program at the Kellogg School of Business costs $157,578, while the two-year program costs over $230,000.

Search for scholarships and teaching opportunities

Scholarships are a type of financial aid given to outstanding students based on their academic achievement and future potential. These programs are highly competitive, but the benefits are worth it, as you could get money to pay for all your graduate school expenses or get funding for a specific research project.

Some schools also offer tuition waivers or some kind of monetary reward for students who serve as teaching assistants. However, it does take some time on your part, so it’s something to consider.

If you are employed, find out about tuition assistance

Some companies offer their employees assistance with college expenses, either through a tuition reimbursement program or by repaying a portion of their loans after graduation. To find out if your employer offers these opportunities, simply contact your HR department.

It should be noted that while these programs can provide much-needed financial relief, they often come with certain conditions attached, such as staying with the company for a specific length of time.

The bottom line

Going to college is expensive, but the rewards can be worth it. The most important thing is to research your options – both in terms of cost and financial aid – to ensure that you are making the right choice for your wallet and your career.

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