There is a lot to consider when it comes to paying for a doctoral degree program.

Alana John, Capella University Graduate Financial Aid Counselor, provides some tips for prospective doctoral students about what they should know and what they need to do.

Understand the Total Loan Amount and Repayment Plan

Before signing up for loans, make sure you fully understand the terms and conditions. Some loans don’t require you to start repaying them until you’re finished with school (or stop attending school) but do accrue interest during that time. Others will expect you to pay while you’re going to school.

Another thing to keep in mind is the amount of the loan offered. The U.S. Department of Education requires universities to offer you the maximum loan amount. But you’re not required to take it, and if you can avoid taking the maximum, do so—accept only what you actually need that semester. That helps keep the overall loan totals lower. It also prevents a catastrophe if your degree takes longer than you initially expected, and you hit the federally mandated cap on government loans.

A helpful tool is this Repayment Estimator. Use it to get an early look at which plans you may be eligible for and calculate estimates for how much you would pay monthly and overall.

Pay Even a Small Portion of Tuition out of Pocket

Paying some tuition out of pocket helps in two ways:  it will keep the principal on your loans lower than it would be otherwise, and it reduces the amount of interest that will accrue.

For example: If you could pay $500 per quarter over 12 quarters, that’s $6,000 less in loans you’d have at the end. Assuming that quarterly tuition is $4,500, you could have $48,000 in loans at the end of 12 quarters instead of $54,000. But there are interest savings, too. If the interest rate is 5% over 6 years, that $54,000 will balloon up to $70,200. But by paying $500 each quarter, the loan total with interest would come to $62,400—almost $8,000 less.

Pay the Interest

Alana recommends paying the interest that accrues on your loans while you’re in your program each month. Many student loan programs let you skip making payments while you’re in school and for up to six months after graduation. However, the lender still charges interest on the loan while you’re in school, and unpaid interest is added to the loan balance, causing the loan to grow even larger. Find out more about paying interest while in school. If paying the interest is something you think you can do, contact your lender to set up the payments.

Tuition Assistance

Many employers offer varying levels of tuition assistance, with varied commitments required of the student. Some companies publicize this, and some don’t. Be sure to talk to your manager to find out if your employer offers tuition assistance. Even if they don’t have a formal tuition assistance program, they may be interested in investing in your education–especially if it is related to your current field. Even if they don’t pay in full, you can potentially reduce your overall financial outlay by a considerable amount.

Federal Work Study

Graduate students may be eligible to apply for federal work study. This is available to both full-time and part-time students. The government-funded program provides part-time employment while students are in school. The program is likely to emphasize working in a field related to your course of study, or in community-service oriented jobs, which can include working for your school. It’s not a loan; it’s income you earn to pay for school. How much you can earn depends on when you apply, how much you need, and your school’s funding level.

Because there are many options with various requirements, it can be difficult to know where to start. Begin by talking with a Capella financial aid advisor, who can work with you to find the best options for your education.

Learn more about options for funding your doctorate.