Are you prepared to pay for graduate school?

How to figure out funding your graduate education

By Eddy Ameen, PhD, and Nabil El-Ghoroury, PhD

The American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) is working on a project to educate prospective and future PhDs about the cost of an education. APAGS invites you to have a first glance at data and tips to evaluate these options before you choose a graduate school.

According to APA’s research team at the Center for Workforce Studies, the median debt for someone who graduates with a doctorate in psychology is $79,297, and a new doctoral graduate’s average starting salary is $66,009 (as of 2009).

First, it is important to note that not all psychology degrees lead to the same amount of debt. The loan amount will depend on the type of degree and subfield students seek, the school they attend, how much they borrow and how frugally they choose to live. For example, a student who borrows to earn a doctorate in clinical, counseling or school psychology will owe a median amount of $80,000 in loans (that’s a monthly payment of $921 a month on a 10-year repayment plan with 6.8 percent interest), whereas a student borrowing to earn a degree in a core research subfield will need to pay back a median amount of $32,000 (or $368 a month over 10 years).

APAGS encourages students who are thinking about graduate school in general — or certain schools in particular — to ask themselves three key financial questions:

  1. What kind of job do you eventually want? This newsletter and other sources will help you understand options available to you, but this is just a start. Seek mentors and professionals doing the things that interest you and learn about the career paths they took to reach their goals. Try to find out what the graduates of programs you’re interested in go on to eventually do to help ensure there will be training support for you in such programs. 

  2. How much debt can you reasonably take on? This is a personal question that only you can answer. While we do suggest finding ways to keep costs down and borrow as little as possible, we recognize that affordability varies from person to person. Typically, people allocate 10 percent of their earnings to repay debt. In order to do the same, according to this debt calculator, you’ll need a net annual income of about $30,000 if you owe $250 per month in student loans, and about $90,000 if you owe $750 per month. Consider the debt you’ve already accumulated, your current spending habits and future lifestyle aspirations, and the realistic incomes of professionals doing what you eventually want to do. 

  3. What program offers you the highest quality, least costly education? Future students should know how much tuition costs at the school they desire to attend, how far a dollar will spread in the city they wish to live in and whether there are guarantees of tuition remission and/or graduate assistantships to help defray costs. Supplement the information you learn online and from faculty with insight you might be able to gather from current students.

Although these are not the only three questions to consider when evaluating schools, from a financial perspective they certainly “add up”!

For additional resources, please see the latest cover story in gradPSYCH.

About the authors

Eddy Ameen, PhDEddy Ameen is the assistant director of APAGS. Prior to joining the staff in 2011, he served as director of an outreach program for homeless youth. Originally from Rhode Island, he earned his PhD in counseling psychology from the University of Miami.


Nabil El-GhorouryNabil El-Ghoroury is the associate executive director of APAGS, serving since 2009. He previously held APAGS governance roles while earning a PhD in clinical psychology from SUNY Binghamton. He joined the APAGS staff after working as a psychologist with children in a Cleveland hospital.