According to the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (CPS), approximately 10.9% of individuals between the ages of 25 and 34 attain an advanced college degree. This percentage is even higher for those in the 35 to 44 age range, increasing to 13.8%. Plus, for the first time in history, men and women are obtaining higher-level degrees at roughly the same rate.

This only makes sense as there are many benefits associated with earning a master's degree. One of the most important is that you're able to gain specialized knowledge in your field, increasing your opportunities for advancement. Individuals with master's degrees also tend to earn more, with the National Center for Education Statistics reporting that the average wage for those with bachelor's degrees is roughly $50,000 per year, whereas earnings for master's degree holders are closer to $60,000 annually – or 20% higher.

Although this may not seem like much of a difference up front, this amount can really add up over time. For instance, if you work in your career for 30 years after earning your master's, that's a $300,000 difference. If you work longer, it's even more.

Still, attending graduate school is a major financial commitment. How do you ease the burden on your budget while still reaching your education and career-related goals? Here are five options to consider.

1. Apply for Federal Student Aid

You may be familiar with FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as an undergrad. But you might not realize that this option is still available for graduate-level programs. According to the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid division (FSA), the federal government offers two types of student aid for graduate or professional students.

The first is the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. This program offers both Direct Unsubsidized Loans—which enable students to borrow up to $20,500 per school year or more in certain degree programs—and Direct PLUS Loans, for those who need more than this amount.

The second type of federal aid is the Federal Pell Grant. The nice thing about this option is that if you qualify to receive it, the money is yours free and clear. There is no repayment requirement upon receiving this funding.

2. Apply for Scholarships

Another graduate school savings option is to apply for scholarships. Though this may take a bit of time, mainly when it comes to searching for and finding scholarships related to your particular situation or degree, this, too, is educational money that you don't have to pay back once you graduate, making it more than worth the effort.

Several online sites offer free scholarship searches. However, the FSA warns that it is extremely important to be able to identify legitimate scholarships from those intended to get your money and/or data and run. That's why they've published an informational sheet titled Don't Get Scammed on Your Way to College, which contains helpful tips like never paying for services that are normally free.

The FSA also suggests using reputable educational resources for conducting your search, such as a governmental agency or the university that you're attending. For instance, as a student at Saint Leo University, you can simply check our website for available scholarships. Listed are all of the options for both undergraduate and graduate degrees.

3. Apply for a Fellowship

Fellowships are typically merit-based programs that are sponsored by a particular organization to help advance the student's education. Depending on the type of fellowship obtained, it can last anywhere from a few months to a few years.

Again, you can search online for fellowships in your field of choice, or you can talk to the university's financial aid office to see what types of opportunities exist. Either way, once you've found a fellowship, ProFellow suggests that you do the following when applying to increase your chances of receiving it:

  • Know your audience
  • Know your purpose
  • Be direct with why you should receive the award
  • Use clear, concise language
  • Show genuine commitment

4. Look for Work-Study Programs

If you're willing to work in return for financial assistance toward your graduate-level degree, work-study is an option to consider. Federal Work-Study is available to both full and part-time graduate students and can either be via a job that you do on campus for the school itself or off-campus for a private institution.

The amount you can earn with Federal Work-Study depends on when you apply, how much financial assistance you need, and the funding level of your particular school. With this program, you can be paid either an hourly rate or a salary, and the amount you earn is limited by your total award.

5. Find an Assistantship

Assistantships are somewhat similar to work-study programs in that you exchange your time and effort for help paying for your schooling. However, the main difference is that this option centers around teaching or conducting research for the university you attend.

For instance, in March of 2018, Saint Leo posted an opening for a Graduate Research Assistant on LinkedIn. The description explained that this position would "be responsible for assisting faculty in conducting Academic Research and writing abstracts." It went on to explain more about the required qualifications and the hours the student would need to be available.

Graduate school can be a major financial commitment, but there are several ways to reduce those costs. By considering these five options, you'll be well on your way to earning an advanced degree in a discipline of your choice at a fraction of the cost.