Earning a psychology graduate degree can be expensive. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the median annual tuition for psychology graduate programs took a significant leap between 2009 and 2015:
The combination of rising tuition and student loan debt makes it imperative for anyone interested in a psychology graduate degree to attend an affordable school. Fortunately, there are a number of affordable psychology graduate programs across the United States available to anyone who’s interested in pursuing a psychology career.
Cheapest public psychology graduate programs
Student Loan Planner consulted with a number of clients who borrowed money for their psychology degree. We asked them several questions, including the school for which they borrowed the bulk of their student loan debt and what their current loan debt was in order to determine what the median student loan debt was among our psychology graduate school borrowers. We used those figures to draw up the most affordable psychology graduate programs based on their student debt.
Here’s our breakdown of the most affordable public and private psychology graduate programs:
9. Arizona State University – Skysong, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Median student loan debt: $75,371
Resident base tuition: $11,720
Non-resident base tuition: $23,544
8. CUNY Graduate School and University Center
Median student loan debt: $69,594
Resident base tuition: $4,965 per semester
Non-resident base tuition: $965 per credit
7. The University of Texas at Austin
Median student loan debt: $65,965
Resident base tuition: $6,084 for 15 credit hours
Non-resident base tuition: $12,529 for 15 credit hours
6. Western Michigan University
Median student loan debt: $62,398
Resident base tuition: $681.67 per credit hour
Non-resident base tuition: $1,268 per credit hour
5. University of Kentucky
Median student loan debt: $58,708
Resident base tuition (graduate): $6,702
Resident base tuition (professional practice doctoral): $8,753
Non-resident base tuition (graduate): $16,282
Non-resident base tuition (professional practice doctoral): $22,519
4. University of Houston
Median student loan debt: $53,795
Resident base tuition: $320 per semester credit hour
Non-resident base tuition: $842 per semester credit hour
3. University of Nebraska – Lincoln
Median student loan debt*: $53,143
Resident base tuition: $332 per credit hour
Non-resident base tuition: $960 per credit hour
2. University of North Texas
Median student loan debt: $52,479
Resident base tuition: $22,568 annually
Non-resident base tuition: $30,164 annually
1. Texas A&M University – College Station
Median student loan debt: $49,133
Resident base tuition: $7,624
Non-resident base tuition: $16,640
Cheapest private psychology graduate programs
Private schools have a reputation for being expensive. When we consulted with our clients, however, we found a number of private school attendees had a median student loan debt similar to clients who went to a public school. The cheapest private psychology program by median student loan debt was St. John’s University ($54,183), which had a lower debt mark than all but four of the cheapest public schools we listed above.
Other private psychology programs that would have fallen in the lower half of our cheapest public psychology programs in terms of median student loan debt included Loyola University Chicago ($64,253), Northcentral University ($61,500) and Mississippi College ($56,273).
School location matters for affordable psychology grad programs
There’s a lot to take in from these lists of private and public psychology schools, but one thing is certain — there’s money to be saved by attending public school. Assessing our lists by the median student loan debt, the most expensive public psychology graduate program (Arizona State University) would fall in the middle of the pack in our list of affordable private psychology graduate schools.
Another key takeaway is location matters. On our public psychology graduate program list, three of the five most affordable schools based on student debt are located in Texas, and three of the more expensive private psychology graduate programs are located in California.
If you expect to take out student loans to get your psychology graduate degree and want to minimize costs, consider not only going to a public school but one that’s in your state if possible. As you can see from our tuition breakdown, there can be significant savings by staying close to home.
Some private psychology grad programs are affordable
Public schools tend to be less expensive than their private counterparts, but that does not mean you have to ignore private schools completely. Attending a private school while keeping your psychology graduate degree student debt down is not impossible. As our breakdown shows, St. John’s graduates in our survey have a median student loan debt of $54,183— that’s on par with the bottom half of our public schools list.
Why you should consider a low-cost psychology graduate program
Whether you decide to go to a public school, private school, in-state or abroad, your main goal should be to keep your student loan debt as low as possible. The lower your student loan debt, the less time you’re stuck paying it back. You also have to consider your salary when you start your psychology career.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for psychologists is $79,010. That means if you borrow money to attend a higher-cost school based on the median student debt, like Fielding Graduate University or Claremont Graduate University, you could leave school owing almost twice your salary.
Although your salary in psychology will likely increase as your career advances, that’s still a lot of student debt to take on when there are less expensive options available to you.
How to pay off psychology grad school debt
There’s a chance your psychology graduate school student loan debt could outpace your starting salary depending on where you went to school and where your first job is. Fortunately, there are a number of options to help you eliminate that debt. Here are a few options that can help you get started.
Public Student Loan Forgiveness
Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a federal program that forgives a borrower’s student loan balance after they’ve worked for 10 years in public service and made 120 qualifying payments. You must work full-time for one of the following organizations to qualify for PSLF:
- Any federal, state, local or tribal government organization
- Nonprofit organizations that are tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code
- Other nonprofit organizations that aren’t tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code as long as their main objective is to provide specific types of qualifying public services
You also have to be enrolled in an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan to qualify for PSLF. IDR plans that are available to students include:
- Pay As You Earn (PAYE)
- Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE)
- Income-Based Repayment (IBR)
- Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR)
Direct Loans are the only type that can be forgiven through PSLF. If you have non-Direct federal student loans, you have to consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan before applying for PSLF. Keep in mind that any payments made before you consolidated your loans won’t count as qualified payments.
National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program
As a psychologist, you could be eligible for medical-related student loan forgiveness programs like the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program. You must serve at least two years at an NHSC-approved site in a designated Health Professional Shortage Area. Depending on where you work and your full-time status, you could get up to $50,000 for your student loan repayment.
Other NHSC Loan Prepayment Program qualifications include:
- Must be a United States citizen or U.S. national
- Provider in the Medicare, Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program
- Fully trained and licensed to practice in the NHSC-eligible primary care medical, dental or mental/behavioral health discipline and state that you’re applying to serve in
- Must be a health professional in an eligible disciple with qualified student loan debt for an education that led to your degree.
You can choose from a number of affordable psychology graduate programs. Ideally, you’ll attend a school that won’t force you to take on a lot of student debt. No matter how much or little debt you incur, it does not hurt to have help as you devise your repayment plan. Consider working with one of Student Loan Planner’s consultants — we’ve helped more than 2,500 clients create customized repayment plans that make sense. We can do the same for you.
*This median student debt amount is for a doctorate in clinical, counseling and applied psychology, not general psychology.