Commissioned Research

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



higher education students, financial status and behavior, graduate schools, professional schools, student loans, financial aid


This brief examines how students finance their graduate and professional education. It summarizes the sources of funds used to cover the tuition and fees universities charge, as well as living expenses. Institutions set a “cost of attendance” (COA) for students, estimating the average budget for one academic year (fall through spring). COA includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board, transportation, and other living expenses, and it establishes the maximum amount students can borrow in federal student loans to attend a particular school. These official budgets serve as the foundation for the discussion that follows about how graduate and professional degree students pay for their education. It is critical to understand that COA is subjective. Since most graduate students do not live in campus housing, actual living expenses depend on local prices for food and housing, as well as the lifestyle choices students make. As the data herein reveal, the budgets institutions set for graduate and professional students are frequently quite generous relative to budgets set for undergraduate students and living standards set by the federal government. Many students use earnings from employment and federal loans to fund their graduate and professional education. But financing patterns differ a great deal across and within types of programs. This brief explores these patterns by describing average budgets for graduate and professional degree students and the funding sources used to cover these budgets.


Related research:

Sandy Baum, A Framework for Thinking About Law School Affordability (2018),

Sandy Baum & Patricia Steele, After Graduate and Professional School: How Students Fare in the Labor Market (2018),

Sandy Baum & Patricia Steele, Graduate and Professional School Debt: How Much Students Borrow (2018),

Sandy Baum & Patricia Steele, The Price of Graduate and Professional School: How Much Students Pay (2018),

Sandy Baum & Patricia Steele, Who Goes to Graduate School and Who Succeeds? (2017),