If you’re thinking about applying for a graduate degree in library science, you know a thing or two about writing big checks. Maybe you’ve already been making payments on your student loans for a while. For most students in the United States, the burden of student loans is a necessary evil, the price of opportunity. And sadly, that doesn’t change when you get to library school.
When I started looking at graduate schools, I didn’t know how I’d pay for it. I only knew I needed the degree to move forward in the field. But as an undergraduate, I’d learned the sticker price wasn’t usually what you pay, and I had a vague idea of “funding” that had helped friends of mine pay for graduate programs in other fields. However, as my first semester drew nearer and nearer, I learned paying for library school was more complicated, and more expensive than I had expected.
You’re probably prepared to take out some loans, but if you’re like me, you may not know how the process differs from that of undergraduate programs. As I did every year in undergrad, I filled out my FAFSA and turned it into the University of Iowa. However, as a graduate student, the school would not take my financial need into account and the loans I was offered would not subsidized!
Thanks to an act of Congress in 2011, graduate students haven’t qualified for subsidized loans since 2012. Meaning, if you take out a loan as a graduate student, the interest accrues the entire time you’re in school. If you don’t pay it down while you’re in classes, that interest will be waiting for you on the other side!
As a graduate student, you’re eligible for direct unsubsidized loans and Direct PLUS loans. For the 2017-2018 school year the interest rate on PLUS loans is 7%. If those interest rates seem high, it’s because they are. That’s 2.55% higher than for undergraduate loans.
If you take out loans for graduate school, you’ll be in good company! Many aspiring librarians take out loans to cover at least some of the costs of school. But, do your research about the amount, the interest rates, and the job market.
I had always been cautioned against going to graduate school without funding, usually in the form of a graduate assistantship. That’s shorthand for a job on campus that could provide tuition remission, health insurance, etc. What I didn’t know was that assistantships are more common on some campuses but few and far between on others.
Part of this may be due to the fact that teaching assistantships, common in other fields, aren’t as plentiful in a field like library science with few undergraduate classes in need. Another factor is that having an assistantship through your school means you’ll be working in an academic library. Work experience is extremely important for librarians in training, so if you’re hoping to enter public librarianship, an assistantship at a university library might not give you the relevant experience you desire.
What can you do to increase your chances of getting an assistantship? In conversations with students in other programs, I’ve learned that prior work experience can make a difference. On a personal level, I know the two years I took between undergraduate and graduate school did set me apart from other applicants. Already in school? Get to know your professors, who may need research or teaching assistants down the road. Thinking about getting a dual degree or eventually pursuing a PhD? Think about starting now. If you are in a program outside of library science, you may open up opportunities in those departments for funding and make contacts that will help you find funding as a library science student.
Scholarships do exist for library students through ALA, SAA, and Beta Phi Mu. Be sure to look for other professional organizations that apply to you as well. Usually it doesn’t take much more than a short essay to apply. Hacker Amanda has some great tips here on writing a scholarship essay! Additionally, scholarships may be available through your program. But be quick to apply some are limited to students with less than 12 credit hours!
In conclusion, library school is expensive and it’s likely you’ll take out some high interest loans. You can try to mitigate the cost through scholarships, assistantships, attending an in-state program, or spreading out your coursework over several years while working. For this final option, online programs are a great bet and many hackers have spoken highly of them here. My best advice is to prepare for the job market even before you enter library school. Getting additional, practical experience in a library will make you stand out against other applicants in competition for assistantships and public library jobs in your school’s area. It may help you focus your studies onto a particular track, and it will add a little oomph to your resume when it’s time to get that full time job and pay off those loans!