Graduate school pays handsome dividends for thousands of business professionals. An advanced degree can make the difference between working a dead-end job and advancing to the big leagues of corporate life. In their fervor to advance, business school students often overlook the importance of financially preparing for graduate school beforehand. Here are some practical tips to ensure your graduate school experience does not result in a debt hangover:

Follow a financial preparation timeline

Considering the level of investment graduate school entails, preparation can make the difference between an endeavor that enhances your future prospects or becomes a drain on your energy and finances. Careful consideration of the potential return on this investment must precede making any financial commitments.

Susannah Snider, in writing for U.S. News and World Reports, recommends starting your timeline a year before entering graduate school, Business school no longer comes with a guarantee of increased income. Because of this, prospective students must calculate the total cost of schooling. To give yourself a better chance of a strong return on investment, always look for funding opportunities like scholarships, fellowships, and grants.

Business- and humanities programs have limited funding, so other sources may be required. Employer-based tuition reimbursement provides one of the most cost-effective financing options for business school. Many employers reimburse substantial percentages of tuition. If you are serious about B-school, choosing an employer that offers this benefit gives a tremendous edge.

One catch with these reimbursement programs is that you need to maintain your job performance while attending classes. Because the employer sponsors your learning, this is rarely a problem. Jobs and classes are designed to work in tandem. For example, your job responsibilities are completed during the day, leaving you free to attend classes at night.

Six months before the start of graduate school, students should save every penny. Savings are crucial because graduate school may entail moving costs and other expenses, such as a deposit on an apartment. Also, savings help avoid the necessity of putting emergency expenses on a credit card.

If applying for student loans, you will need to complete the Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The graduate FAFSA differs from the undergraduate FAFSA. Graduate programs offer much less support in terms of grants but provide much higher loan amounts. Because of this, analyzing ROI takes on a much more important role than undergraduate school.

Undergraduate degrees are considered much more basic. They also lead to broader job opportunities. Business school prepares students for much more specific sets of responsibilities. Prospective graduate students should always consider the expected pay rates of their business school degrees in proportion to their monthly loan payments.

Six weeks before starting B-school, students need to get organized. Having to worry about extraneous bills and expenses serves as a tremendous distraction from studies. Getting them taken care of before starting puts students in a far better position to succeed.

It is also time to start living like a student. Taking on graduate school requires tremendous sacrifice and discipline. To minimize debt, cutting expenses is crucial. Strategies for minimizing debt include downsizing apartments, living with roommates, eating out less, and utilizing public transit.

Prepare your budget carefully to avoid tapping your 401(K) or charging credit cards

Going to graduate school enhances your earning power and ultimately your financial stability. Don’t jeopardize this by starting down the path to poor financial habits. Prepare your finances so your 401(K) remains untouched by dealing with expenses like outstanding credit card bills beforehand, suggests Phil Villarreal in writing for Money Under 30. With your budget narrowed to as few creditors as possible, the temptation to charge on your credit cards or raid your 401(K) is greatly reduced.

Emergencies happen during graduate school, so having a backup financing plan helps. Emergency cash loans are available from companies like Headland Lending. These loans are designed to cover short-term issues like medical bills, car repairs, and unexpectedly high utility bills.