So, you’re thinking about graduate school—or maybe you’ve already been accepted—and you’re wondering what types of financial aid are available for graduate students. We assume you don’t want to have it pay for it yourself, do you?
The truth is you don’t have to. From scholarships to student loans, there are several different options you can choose from to fund your education.
How is applying for federal financial aid different for graduate students than undergraduate students?
You might already be familiar with the federal financial aid process as an undergrad. Most undergraduate students file for financial aid as a dependent, meaning they received financial support from their parents. If this was the case for you, this meant you had to provide your parents’ financial information, such as their IRS W-2 tax form, on your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application to receive financial aid.
This time around, as a graduate student, you’ll likely be applying for financial aid as an independent, which means you’ll be required to submit your own financial information to determine how much you’ll receive. If you’re married, you are also required to include your spouse’s financial information.
Unlike undergraduate students, graduate school students do not qualify for the following loans:
- Direct Unsubsidized Loan: This loan is a borrowed amount you won’t have to pay interest on.
- Pell Grant and the Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): These loans are not available for graduate students.
Which kinds of financial aid can you receive?
The U.S. Department of Education offers financial aid for graduate students. Your financial aid reward type depends on several eligibility requirements. There are three overall types of federal financial aid for graduate students: loans, grants, and work-study. You can apply for financial aid at fafsa.ed.gov.
Loans: The most common type of loans are issued by the U.S. Department of Education directly, either through a Direct PLUS Loan or a Direct Unsubsidized Loan:
- Direct PLUS Loan: With this loan, you can receive up to the maximum amount of the cost of attendance of your school. A credit check will be performed when you apply. Along with repaying your loan, you are also charged a 7 percent interest rate.
- Direct Unsubsidized Loan: Your school will determine how much you can borrow with this loan based on your university’s cost of attendance. Generally, this loan lets you borrow up to $20,500 per school year (and possibly more if you are in certain health profession programs). You must repay the loan, along with a 6 percent interest rate.
Grants: Unlike a loan, a grant is free and does have to be repaid. As previously mentioned, you, as a graduate student, don’t qualify for a Pell Grant or an FSEOG grant. However, there are other government-sponsored grant opportunities for qualifying students. These include:
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant: An annual $4,000 financial reward is given to students who are studying to become an elementary or secondary school teacher in an in-demand field, such as science or math, and work for a school agency that serves a low-income area. You must also agree to teach for at least four full academic years within eight years after completing your graduate school degree. Prior to teaching, you’ll have to complete the TEACH Grant Initial and Subsequent Counseling, as well as the Agreement to Serve.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: This grant can be awarded to you if your parent or guardian served and died while in the U.S. armed forces in Iraq or Afghanistan after the 9/11 remembrance day. You must also be under age 24 or enrolled in college at least part-time when your parent’s or guardian’s death occurred.
Federal Work-Study: This opportunity provides paid part-time jobs for graduate (and undergraduate) students who have financial need, while enrolled in school. Work-study opportunities vary by institution. Universities like UCLA, Texas State University, Princeton University, and Harvard University’s College of Education offer work-study opportunities, as do many others. Check your university’s financial aid and department web pages for opportunities available.
Are there scholarships or fellowships you can apply for?
If you prefer to not rely on federal student aid to cover your cost of attendance, consider applying for scholarships or fellowships. Some universities offer a variety of department-sponsored scholarships, along with private scholarships funded by generous donors and organizations.
At the University of Denver, graduate students can search for a scholarship based on their major, GPA, and other relevant information to find a scholarship they may qualify for. Likewise, Clark University offers Merit Scholarships to select students based on certain factors, such as GPA and letters of recommendation. Other examples of universities that offer graduate school scholarships include Eastern Michigan University, Marquette University, and University of North Florida.
In addition, some universities offer fellowships, which are similar to scholarships, but also provide other incentives, such as a stipend (a small salary). At Cornell University’s Graduate School program, students can search the fellowship database, where there are more than 1,000 fellowships in different fields of study. Fellowships at Cornell University covers full tuition, along with a stipend and student health insurance. The University of Washington also offers a number of fellowships in a variety of academic interests.
Conduct a search at your university for potential scholarships and fellowships you may qualify for based on the criteria. If your graduate school doesn’t offer scholarships or fellowships, you can still apply for scholarships available through websites like fastweb.com, scholarshipowl.com, scholarships.com, and other similar sites.
What about graduate assistantships?
A graduate assistantship is a type of job at the university in a student’s chosen field of study. Similar to fellowships, assistantships cover tuition expenses and pay students a small stipend. In exchange, graduate assistants—also known as teaching assistants or TAs—help professors conduct research, teach lower-level courses, and grade class assignments.
Some examples of graduate assistantships include Boston University’s College of Communication, Mississippi University for Women, and the University of Arkansas Bumpers College of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness. Check to see if your graduate school department offers graduate assistantships you can apply for!
Get as much of a free education as possible
As you prepare to attend graduate school, consider your options for financial aid. Become familiar with your graduate school’s scholarships, grants, fellowships, and work-study opportunities, and their respective deadlines. Many students often receive a combination of scholarships and student loans to pay for their education.
Make sure you choose a graduate school that offers the most opportunities to get a free or low-cost education, such as one with plenty of scholarships and fellowships to apply for. Don’t limit yourself by thinking, “Oh, I’ll never get that scholarship anyway!” It’s simply not true—you never know until you apply.
The more scholarships you apply for, the greater your chance of receiving one or several of them! Receiving scholarships relieves the stress of worrying how you’re going to pay for school and reduces student debt when you graduate. Take advantage of every scholarship opportunity!