Career Strategies for Librarians
Getting Your LIS Degree without Breaking the Bank
by Sarah E. Morris & Patrice Johnson
If you've ever thought about pursuing your master's in library science, you've inevitably thought about how
you would pay for it. Perhaps you have considered applying for a grant, but aren’t certain of your chances.
In reality, grants might not cover all of your expenses and you probably won’t want to borrow the entire
cost. But don't let money be the roadblock that stands in your way of going through the application
process. Instead, formulate a plan for financing your education and know where to begin your funding
search. Finding a financial solution that works for you is a challenge that must fit with your educational
and professional goals. This article will help you create a plan as well as offer some resources to
search for funding.
Step One - Choosing Your Ideal Program
Paying for library school is intimately bound up in your choice of which degree to pursue, where to
pursue it, and what you want to do with your schooling once you’re finished. Therefore, a list of grant
sources should not be the first step; instead it is paramount that you consider the whole picture and
draw the best strategy for your particular situation.
Take the time to examine your personal interests in library science. Ask yourself:
Do I want to work in a traditional library setting?
Do I want to work in academia, with the public, with children, or in a corporate setting?
Do I have another degree that would complement my LIS degree?
If you already have graduate school credits you may want to locate a program that will accept a certain
percentage, if not all, of your previous work. If you are presently employed, find out if your organization
has a tuition assistance program. It may be your job’s best-kept secret, so ask the correct personnel,
usually the human resource department.
In choosing where to go to school, you really need to think about what you ultimately want to do with the
degree. If you know you want to work with children in a school setting, your choice of a program may be
limited to one that offers the additional teaching courses/certification required by some educational
institutions. If you know you want to work in academia and you desire an additional master’s degree,
applying to a dual-degree program may suit you best. If you are not certain, then the best option may be
a broad program, with geographical and financial aid considerations factoring more prominently into
Another big question to consider is how you want to take classes: in person, online, or perhaps a mix of
the two. Both authors attended an online program which required days on campus, where campus was
within a reasonable distance. Certainly, the relative costs of each option might very well make one
program more appealing than another.
For each school/program you consider, find answers to the following core questions:
What aid is available (grants, subsidized loans, teaching, working, etc.)?
What are the tuition costs? Is there an in-/out-of-state difference? Are online classes priced differently?
What incidental costs would you incur (parking, driving, cost of living, relocation, etc.)?
Financial Impact of Your Choice
You will be investing time, money and effort in the pursuit of a master’s degree. Ascertain the feasibility
of programs you are considering in relation to your location, time constraints, finances, and personal
commitments. Choose the program that best fits your needs from the start to avoid unnecessary
frustration and hardship. Be sure to take into account the additional costs of textbooks, technology, and
You may be fortunate to have a university that offers an LIS degree right in your backyard, but for many
that is not the case. Therefore, consider all your options with an open mind. In the last decade, thanks to
advances in technology and the ingenuity of library science educators, distance education has become a
viable alternative to the traditional classroom setting.
Step Two - Formulating Your Financial Plan
When you’ve decided what sorts of educational options you have, it’s time to figure out the funding.
According to recent statistics, four out of five full-time graduate students obtain financial assistance1.
Even if you can pay out of pocket, there are options for lowering the monetary costs of the degree.
Scholarships and Grants
The most sought-after types of financial aid are scholarships and grants—some have stipulations but
others do not—where funds are rendered to the students or directly to the school. Grants are awarded
from schools, libraries, and other organizations. Some have work or meeting attendance requirements,
or require your participation in some other way. Depending on your future plans, grants with strings
attached may not work for you. Consequently, it’s crucial to consider the full implications of grant
requirements prior to acceptance.
An additional caveat on scholarship and grant funding: you have to find them and often fill out
applications that compare in complexity to your graduate school application. Again, depending on your
situation, this may or may not be a task you feel you can take on. The American Library Association (ALA)
offers a wide variety of scholarships annually through its many divisions and chapters, totaling over
$300,000, making it the best place to start your scholarship search. ALA scholarship qualifications range
from academic rank, financial standing, physical disability, minority status, affiliation with libraries, and
areas of expertise/experience. A list of ALA scholarships may be found at: http://www.ala.org/Template.
In addition to ALA, local state associations and state library agencies are great places to continue your
search for grants and scholarships. Once you have selected an LIS program, contact the graduate
school to determine what financial assistance is available to enrolled students. Many LIS graduate
schools offer graduate assistantships, fellowships, and scholarships.
The “easiest” form of payment for library school is loans—easy because for the right price nearly any
financial institution will give you one. Loans also require applications which may present a burden for
you throughout your schooling. On the positive side, you often have the option to borrow a little extra for
books and other costs incurred during school, costs which can often break the bank over the course of
your year(s) in library school. The best loan you can acquire is a Stafford subsidized loan from the
government—the same Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form you may remember from
college—because the interest rates are lower than the market rate and the government pays your
interest while you’re in school. Stafford loans also come in an unsubsidized version in which the
interest accrues during school, but rates are still relatively low. New in 2006, PLUS loans are now
extended to graduate students. These loans have better rates than private or credit card loans2. Slightly
less desirable are loans available from banks across the country, where the rate will be higher, but you
will get the money you need for school. Payment can usually begin right away or be deferred (while
interest accrues) until graduation. The financial aid office at the school(s) of your choice will be able to
help further with the specifics for your school and situation.
Assistantships and Fellowships
Many library science programs offer competitive assistantships and fellowships based on merit. With
these options, the library school pays for the student’s tuition and fees and may even provide a monthly
stipend and health benefits in exchange for working, student teaching, or assisting with faculty research
projects. Carefully research the school of your choice for such programs, keeping in mind that they are
usually limited to on-campus students. However, these are enriching and educational opportunities that
provide valuable experience.
Of course, if you don’t plan on working in a library, this may not be the sort of experience you’re looking
for—again, you need to evaluate your goals in relation to the payment options at hand.
Financing through Employment
For some, the idea of working while going to school is anathema, but for others it could be the difference
between being able to attend library school or not. Depending on your degree completion timeline,
attending school full- or part-time and working full- or part-time can keep you financially afloat and, if the
job is in a library environment, add experience to your resume. As mentioned earlier, some employers
offer tuition assistance programs to employees and may offer full or partial payment for completed
coursework. However, it’s imperative that you determine the guidelines and stipulations associated with
such programs. Some organizations may require a student to maintain a certain grade point average or
commit to several years of employment beyond degree completion.
Some employers offer tuition assistance in the form of a scholarship from a library to attend library
school or a discount on tuition if you are employed at a particular university. You may want to ask your
current employer, as well as potential employers during any interviews you may have, about the
availability of such benefits.
Now that you have devoted time to thinking about what payment options would best fit your situation, we
would like to present some places to look for each type of assistance. While in no way exhaustive, we
hope this list will jump start your search and maybe relieve a little bit of the pressure.
Choosing the right library science program for you
ALA’s Guide to Choosing a Library School
ALA Accredited Library Programs
Comparison Guide to Distance Ed Programs for Getting the MLS
ALA & its divisions
State library organizations: investigate options in the state you live in, the state you’d like to go to school
in, as well as any state in which you’d like to live post-graduation
For those with a PhD in the humanities, the Council on Library and Information Resources offers a
Federal Student Aid information
Search for jobs in your area/region or even nationwide. Grants are available to libraries to help
employees pay for library school. For example, the Public Library Association (a division of the American
Library Association) offered $8,000 in grant monies to public libraries in 2006 —if you work at a library
and they haven’t received grant money to help you out, encourage your administration to apply!
Step Three - Repayment
Please remember that not all library school graduates find employment (or their ideal employment) right
after graduation. A cursory glance over the archives of the NEWLIB-L listserv is a sobering exercise in
what can happen after library school. When you’re strategizing how to pay for library school, you must
keep in mind how the approach you choose will affect you once school is done. Think about what will
You don’t have a professional position six months after graduation when your loans come due
You have to relocate or take a position for a lower salary than you’d like
Your grant has constraints—will they still be amenable when you’re looking for a job but aren’t having
While most graduates are employed successfully after library school, you should be prepared for the
Hopefully this article has helped you think about the big picture of paying for library school and given you
a few leads to pursue. In closing:
Figure out your desires (and be prepared to compromise on something!)
Define your constraints
List your options for library school
Create a payment strategy
1. Elizabeth Kountze, “Free money for grad school,” Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Jan 2006, 87-88.
2. Sandra Block, “Grad, professional students can now supplement finances with PLUS loans,” USA
Today 8/15/2006. Accessed via EBSCOhost 9/19/06.
About the Authors:
Sarah E. Morris is Serials/Indexing Librarian at the Illinois College of Optometry, Chicago, IL. She is a
2006 graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Graduate School of Library and
Information Science and a 2004 recipient of an Illinois State Library Training Grant. She is active in
ALCTS and NASIG.
Patrice Johnson currently works for the Chicago Public Library Talking Book Center providing outreach,
reference, and readers’ advisory service and is a recent MSLIS recipient from the University of Illinois
Graduate School of Library and Information Science. She serves on the ALA Membership Committee, the
ALA Spectrum Scholars Interest Group, and the ILBPH Readers’ Advisor Committee. She is also a
recipient of the 2004 ALA Spectrum Scholarship and 2004 Illinois State Library Training Grant.
Article published Feb 2007
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.