This post is Part III of a four-part series to help occupational therapy students and practitioners find ways to fund their OT education.
This post is full of tips, advice, and resources for current OT students who are looking to save money as they pursue their degrees! In case you missed them, you can read the first two parts of my Funding Your OT Education series for advice about how to find funding for OT school and what you can do before starting OT school to make the most of your money.
Read on to learn about ways you can save as an OT student!
- Start locally in your search for funding. When you are applying for scholarships, start with opportunities specific to your OT program and then work your way outward to the level of university, state, and national funding sources. By starting with a smaller pool of applicants, you’ll increase your chances of winning.
- Don’t let money pass you by – just go ahead and apply! When it comes to scholarship applications, don’t doubt yourself or compare yourself to others! You don’t know how many other people are applying or what skills they have…and you don’t need to know any of that to submit a quality application that highlights your talents and skills. Even if you’re pretty sure you won’t win, you DEFINITELY won’t if you don’t try.
- Keep doing the FAFSA! For ten minutes of your time, you could receive thousands of dollars in federal work study or grant money. Even if you think you won’t qualify, give it a try – I did mine expecting nothing and was eligible to earn $2400 as a work-study student!
- Subscribe to your school’s funding or scholarship listserv. Read the messages regularly, and never miss an opportunity to apply for a position, scholarship, or program that could lighten your financial burden. If your school doesn’t have a funding listserv, check with your librarians for help identifying local and national funding opportunities.
- Never stop networking! Don’t limit yourself to finding funding within your department – last year I was offered a research fellowship from a faculty member I met at a random on-campus event! Research departments, attend events, or schedule meetings with people who are involved in grant-funded projects or other programs where you might be able to get hired on as an assistant or research associate. This can be especially beneficial if you are a student at a large research university, although smaller schools have opportunities as well.
- Consider the community. There are so many community-based organizations that offer funding, scholarships, and programs to support students. Investigate groups such as Ruritan or Lions Clubs, and then branch out to local hospitals, libraries, and special interest groups (ex. NAACP), that may offer scholarships for students.
- Begin (or continue) practicing successful money management habits. If you aren’t already, begin monitoring your saving and spending habits to identify areas where you could improve. Try using an app to help get your budget on track, or make some lifestyle changes. For example, if you can’t do without your daily Starbucks latte, consider investing in a coffee machine to cut costs each week. And these articles from The Simple Dollar and Bank of America are full of ways to help you save!
- Work when you can. Although I would have loved to take the summer off, I worked while I wasn’t in school to save money for the following school year. Many of my classmates work as babysitters, pet sitters, etc. to make extra money when they aren’t in class. Try using Care.com or TaskRabbit to find part-time jobs that fit your schedule.
- Keep asking around. Ask classmates or recent graduates of your program how they are financing their education. While most people probably used loans to cover the majority of their expenses, they may also be aware of other scholarships, fellowships, or sources of funding.
- Apply for “event-specific” funding. Many schools grant “travel” or “professional development” awards to students who are going to educational events or presenting at conferences. Although many awards are given on a sliding scale based on student role in the event (attendee vs. presenter vs. exhibitor), every little bit helps! Ask your instructors, graduate student association, or financial aid office about how you can apply and cover some of your expenses.
- Communicate with your program instructors or department director. Although they are not there to do the legwork for you, these people are often in the know about various funding, research, or work opportunities, and they can help guide you in your search for money. They may also be able to connect you with various projects or job opportunities that can help you earn while you learn!
- Get creative. Don’t limit yourself to finding funding opportunities in your department. Often larger institutions have community-based programs, research projects, and additional departments that may be in need of student workers or employees. Ask around and search online for funding opportunities outside the world of OT.
- Get paid to participate in research. Most universities have Psychology or other departments that need participants for research projects, and I’ve seen studies that paid between $15 and $1500 at my school! Search online for current studies at your university or use Google to find studies in your area.
- Take advantage of tax breaks. Tax season is here, and if you haven’t already filed you may want to research the various education-related tax breaks that are out there! Did you know you can write off or get deductions for school-related travel expenses, textbooks, and tuition? Check out the IRS Tax Benefits for Education page to learn more. (To see if you’re eligible to claim Education Credits, use this IRS online tool!)
- Think long term. Even if you end up taking out loans to pay for your graduate education now, begin investigating loan forgiveness programs, education-funding employers and similar opportunities NOW that can have your loans forgiven or your debts paid for in the future.
- Advocate for opportunities. Your active support of legislation that offers funding or increases practice opportunities for OT students is key to ensuring that the future of our profession is secure. Nicole Lamoreux, MOT, OTR/L, is a new grad who worked with other healthcare students to lobby on Capitol Hill for the inclusion of occupational therapy professionals in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC); currently OTs are not eligible to receive loan forgiveness for participation in the NHSC. Although change won’t happen overnight, by continuing to advocate for OT’s inclusion in mental health legislation and other areas, you can help make OT an affordable and rewarding career option for future generations of students (and their clients)!
What did you do during OT school to save money or make money? What advice do you have for current students? Share in the comments!