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Using Non-Degree Status to Test Grad School Waters
(Continued from 1)

Larger universities will open an account for you when you apply. They will send a username and password, and all registration is done online. At the University of Massachusetts, where I am currently enrolled as a non-degree student, even billing is done online - you print your bill and submit payment. At UMASS all university communications now go through student e-mail accounts exclusively; I had thought I could avoid installing the university's e-mail software on my home computer, but it's a necessary part of being a student. In short, be very aware of how your institution handles technology for administrative purposes, and keep yourself up to date.

COSTS: Each institution treats non-degree students differently, in terms of financial aid policies. If you need financial aid, contact your institution. Generally schools do not require non-degree students to pay many of the activities and health fees that degree students must pay - but you also do not have access to those facilities.

The cost of tuition and fees can often be deducted on U.S. taxes, directly, as a benefit of the Life-Long Learning Credit. Check the IRS website or talk with an accountant to find out more about your specific tax situation.

A WORTHWHILE VENTURE: Whether or not you go on to degree status, taking one or two classes as a non-degree student can be an eye-opener in terms of the level of challenge a graduate program in your field demands. You might find that your work experience gives you analysis and insight into topics in class, and that the workload is easy as a result. On the other hand, you might find yourself buried in reading or turned off by what you thought would be an interesting course topic. Registering for non-degree status is low-risk: you're not commited to a graduate program, but if you do apply at a later date, you have six credits (or more) under your belt. Testing the waters can be a win-win situation.

Sample of the non-degree graduate student application at UMASS.

Melanie Zoltan is a student at the University of Massachusetts.

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