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Mom Goes Back to School: Financing Graduate School


I’m guilty of occasionally being a secret shopper. No, not one of those store sleuths grading customer service, but one that shops, then after returning home, quickly discards the evidence — bags and tags — and mingles the new in with the old so as not to draw attention to it.

Most of the time when I assure my husband that “We’ve had that for months,” he just rolls his eyes. It’s harmless; he would just prefer our coffee table be free of decorations so there is more room for his feet. But when I got the itch for graduate school, I knew this wasn’t going to be a purchase I could shoulder shrug out of. Graduate tuition is not a one-time purchase; it’s an investment — one that can take years to pay off — and one that requires a discussion between spouses.

As silly as it sounds, I was dreading the initiation of this discussion. The responsible mom in me felt guilty spending a large portion of our family’s income on my something for myself. An occasional new pair of jeans or throw pillows — I can live with that guilt, but thousands of dollars’ worth of tuition? I was losing some serious sleep over this.

Because my husband is an incredible guy, he was nothing but supportive of my idea to go back to school. His exact words were, “You support me, and I support you. That’s how this works.” Unfortunately, support is not an accepted method of payment when tuition is due. We had some big decisions to make.

To GI Bill or not to GI Bill

We wrestled with whether or not to use the GI Bill for my education expenses for weeks. I initially refused to use it. I wanted it there to fully fund one of our kid’s college education. Period. Case closed.

Once I was accepted to my long-shot, first-choice school and that $55,000 price tag got real, I started to doubt that forgoing the GI Bill was the smartest thing financially. Reopen that case. Here was my reasoning:

  • My family was going to have to pay for education one way or the other — whether for me, my son or my daughter.
  • There is a very real possibility that we could set aside the GI Bill for one or both of the kids, and they end up not needing it because of scholarships.
  • We have 13 years before we have an undergraduate student. That gives us 13 years to save and plan for the expense — and we are. My graduate school starts August 29.
  • We have 13 years to search and apply for scholarships for our kids. I was surprised to find that you can start applying for awards when kids are as young as 5 years old.
  • One way or another, we’ll have tuition to pay for at some point. It seemed a little self-defeating to take on that great debt, which would turn into a monthly payment after graduation now when obtaining a master’s degree could qualify me for higher wages to help fund tuition for my kids.

GI Bill findings

I filled in my own opinions with actual research and contacts to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now, since it’s a government organization, know they will not advise you on the best choice for your situation, but we all know that didn’t keep me from weaving my story for the poor woman who rescued me from hold. I believe her actual response was, “Yeah. That’s your call. I don’t know.”

She did, however, fill in some fact-based gaps for me on the Post-9/11 GI Bill:

  • The bill provides up to 36 months of education benefits. Using 24 months still left my kids with partial tuition assistance.
  • Tuition is covered in full at participating public universities. Private schools, like the one I will attend, are typically more expensive, so there is a cap on assistance. As of Aug. 1, 2016, that is $21,970.46 per academic year.
  • The recipient must apply for the GI Bill. This was a surprise step for me. I knew my husband could control distribution amounts, but the actual application was an extra — luckily, online — step.
  • The confirmation of the GI Bill award can be delayed in the fall when many students begin enrollment.

This was all enough to convince me. And after more open communication with my husband, and a few other family members, we were certain using the GI Bill was the best choice for us right now. I applied and received my award letter within three weeks. After I register for classes, the veterans department at my university will handle communications with the VA. Thus far, the process is much simpler than I gave it credit for. Truly, the hardest part of the process was deciding the best financial decision for our family.


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