Financial Aid for Graduate Students

Table of Contents: Financial Aid for Graduate Students
1. Frequently Asked Financial Aid Questions
2. 5 Tips for Getting More Financial Aid for Grad School
3. Forms of Financial Aid for Grad Students
4. Expert Advice: With Stephanie Hanigan
5. Scholarships-for-Graduate-Students

Graduate School Financial Aid

Each year, the number of students enrolled in graduate school continues to rise. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), enrollment in a post-baccalaureate program increased 41% from 2.2 million to 3.0 million students between 2000 and 2018. NCES projects enrollment to increase to 3.1 million students by 2029.

Thanks to graduate school financial aid, even students unable to pay out-of-pocket can achieve their career goals. Keep reading to learn more about graduate school FAFSA, paying with scholarships, and other financial aid for graduate school.


Frequently Asked Financial Aid Questions

  • How much financial aid do graduate students get?

    Students receive graduate school financial aid in varying amounts. The government disburses federal aid based on financial need, and academic institutions often base scholarships on academic merit.

  • Should I complete the FAFSA if I am seeking a master's degree?

    Yes, graduate students can qualify for federal student aid. Unlike undergraduate students, graduate students do not need to enter their parent’s tax information, just their own.

  • Can graduate students get Pell Grants?

    The government only offers Pell Grants to undergraduate students. However, graduate students may qualify for unsubsidized federal loans.

  • Can I receive federal aid for programs abroad by applying through the FAFSA?

    In some cases, federal aid may cover graduate school abroad. Prospective students should reference the FAFSA’s list of qualifying international schools that the organization updates quarterly.

5 Tips for Getting More Financial Aid for Grad School

If you have a good reason, ask a school to reconsider or re-evaluate your financial aid offer
After filling out a general application for financial aid through a school, students can contact the financial aid department to express a need for additional aid. Occasionally, colleges and universities receive additional funds from private donors reserved for special cases. Some schools even provide emergency funds for learners who experience a financial crisis, such as a job loss.
Be thankful, polite, and concise when negotiating with prospective schools
Colleges need knowledgeable students to meet enrollment quotas and stay in operation, so students can use negotiation tactics when discussing financial aid. Learners can benefit from using a firm, yet polite, communication style. During the negotiation process, individuals should avoid revealing too much information and use concise, clear language. Lastly, they should formally thank the institution through a written letter for any funds received. This could lead to additional opportunities for financial aid in the future.
Approach one school with a “better offer” from another
With so many online and quality in-person programs to choose from, learners can use the industry’s competitive nature to their advantage. When discussing graduate school financial aid with a school representative, use other offers from competing schools as leverage to earn additional aid. Some schools may match the offer or even provide a better aid package as a result.
Calculate what you will need; do not just ask for “more”
When negotiating with a college or university, clearly communicate your needs if the current financial aid package does not meet them. While using vague communication may benefit learners early on in the negotiation process, sometimes asking for a specific number can convince schools that the aid will simply meet needs rather than exceed them.
Persistence can pay off
In some cases, aspiring graduate students can turn a no into a yes. Sometimes funds become available later in the year, or schools may end up with leftover scholarship money. By using persistency and clearly communicating the value they can add to the school, students may earn more financial aid.

Forms of Financial Aid for Grad Students

Graduate students can rely on multiple forms of financial aid to fund their studies. Below, we explain the differences between each form of graduate school financial aid. Some of these aid forms do not require repayment after graduation. Others may begin accumulating interest immediately.

  • Scholarships

    Federal agencies, nonprofits and foundations, and private organizations and corporations provide scholarships to graduate students. Unlike fellowships and work studies, scholarships usually do not require a work or research commitment. Contrary to loans, scholarships usually do not require repayment. Some federally-funded scholarships may require a service commitment after graduation, and if students fail to meet that requirement, they may need to repay the loan.

    Scholarships typically require recommendation letters, essays, and official undergraduate transcripts. Some of these awards feature competitive applicant pools, so individuals should allow enough time to apply for multiple scholarships. In a later section, we highlight multiple scholarships reserved exclusively for graduate students.

  • Fellowships

    Some federal offices, like the United States Agency for International Development, offer fellowship programs. Fellowships typically offer funds to students for research purposes or in exchange for work commitments, similar to a paid internship. Requirements for fellowships vary greatly, so students should pay close attention to the commitment details before accepting. Most fellowships require in-person time commitments.

    Similar to fellowships, educational institutions typically offer assistantships to graduate students. Graduate assistantships offer free or reduced tuition in exchange for teaching hours. Graduate students who participate in assistantships typically teach foundation courses to undergraduate students.

  • Grants

    Grants function similarly to scholarships, and some federal organizations use these terms interchangeably. However, the application process for a grant varies slightly. Most grants do not require an essay, and the government awards these funds based on financial need or service commitment.

    While graduate students typically do not qualify for federal Pell Grants unless they pursue a teaching certificate, they may qualify for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant. Students who accept this $4,000 yearly grant must take certain classes. They must also work in a high-need field at a school that serves students from low-income families for at least four years following graduation.

  • Private Loans

    Learners unable to fund their studies through federal loans, scholarships, or grants can apply for private loans. Private loans typically come from credit unions or banks, and students must possess a positive credit history to qualify. Some individuals may need to ask a family member to co-sign for a private loan to qualify.

    Typically, private loans begin accruing interest immediately, and some private loans may require immediate payments. Individuals with higher credit scores may benefit from lower interest rates. Unfortunately, private loans do not qualify for federal student loan forgiveness programs.

  • Work-Study Aid

    Many graduate students also qualify for federal work-study aid. Learners can apply for these funds by filling out the FAFSA. Work studies function similar to part-time jobs, and these jobs usually take place on campus. Private nonprofits and public agencies usually offer off-campus work-study positions. Applicants must demonstrate financial need to qualify.

    Unlike fellowships, internships, or assistantships, work studies do not require academic achievement, and the positions may not relate directly to the participant’s major. Work-study funds usually go directly towards educational expenses, but some work studies allow students to apply the money towards living expenses.

  • Employer-Sponsored Tuition

    Graduate students who maintain a full-time job during their studies may qualify for employer-sponsored tuition. This occurs when an employer agrees to pay for all of or a portion of an employee’s tuition.

    Usually, employers only offer this benefit if the degree relates directly to the employee’s current position and if the employee agrees to continue working for the company for a set number of years following graduation. Aspiring graduate students can always pitch a request for employer-sponsored tuition, even if the organization doesn’t already offer it.

FAFSA for Graduate Students

Aspiring graduate students can fill out the FAFSA. The application takes about 55 minutes to complete for first-time applicants. The FAFSA allows students to apply for multiple types of federal loans. Unfortunately, the government reserves funds for Pell Grants and subsidized loans for undergraduate students.

Loans acquired through the FAFSA begin accumulating interest immediately. The government offers two types of federal loans to graduate students: Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans. Eligible graduate students may borrow up to $20,500 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans each school year. Individuals who need more financial aid for graduate school can apply for the Direct PLUS Loan, but this loan requires a credit check.

The FAFSA opens each year on October 1, and the completion deadline varies based on the graduate school. Most graduate schools require this application by early February. In the next section, we discuss different types of financial aid for graduate school.

Expert Advice on Grad School Scholarships

Stephanie Hanigan

Stephanie Hanigan works at Southern Oregon University to ensure grant and scholarship funding is up to date.


Southern Oregon University

  • Given the high cost of graduate school, how can potential students go about deciding if the cost is worth it?

    One of the best methods of determining whether or not additional educational expenses would be a wise investment for graduate students is to research the average salary for positions specific to the degree of interest. Since income earned can vary significantly by geographic location, students would profit from further researching the pay and benefits offered in the area in which they plan to reside as well as the cost of living of that area. Additionally, a student will want to calculate the current monthly expenses they will need to budget for and then determine whether or not the additional expense of a loan repayment is something they will be able to afford. Lastly, securing funding that does not require repayment, like grants and scholarships, is the absolute best method in financing education.

    There are countless opportunities to assist with the cost of higher education! Putting forth the effort to research and apply for them is time well spent, especially if it results in being the recipient selected for the grant or scholarship. Students should always look for funding specific to the academic department they plan to enroll in, grants or scholarships offered by the institution, grants or scholarships specific to the career or degree they plan to pursue, grants or scholarships offered through the community, and educational funds specific to them (i.e., military, tribal, or cultural funding).

  • What are a few ways that students can go about standing out on their scholarship application?

    In order to stand out on your scholarship application, think outside the box. Then, when you think you are doing so, go further. It is extremely common for students to answer a scholarship application question in a manner relatively similar to other submissions. For example, if the question posed is, “What is your greatest achievement to date?”, the vast majority of students will provide an answer similar to, “Being accepted to college.” This answer may be the exciting truth; however, now the student has become part of a group who have all submitted a similar answer and who have become less identifiable as a result.

    Focus on what makes you stand out! Consider your responses and whether or not they will be memorable. Be open with the information you share so the reader can connect to your story, but also be mindful of and comfortable with the information you include. Do not share anything that will make you feel emotionally exposed. Take your time to contemplate your responses, consider the many potential answers to the application question, and utilize the one that will leave a positive, lasting impression.

  • When considering potential programs and universities, how should students think about their return on investment and how that is influenced by their pick?

    When pursuing further education or a potential program, students are investing in the academic content as well as the reputation of the school they attend. They become a member of the community that is the foundation of the college or university. As such, they are as much a reflection on the school as the school is on them. Students must consider this aspect when considering the return on their investment. In what way(s) can the student positively impact the school’s reputation moving forward and in what way(s) can the school positively impact the student? Being awarded a degree from an institution of higher learning forever ties the student to that institution, so all applicants should consider this when researching and selecting a school.

    Students will also want to weigh the support offered by the college or university, as this is a reflection of the school’s investment in the student. Will the amount and type of support offered by the school make the process of completing the degree more achievable, more enjoyable, and less stressful? Ultimately, the experience of mastering the academic curriculum to earn the degree and the support available to the student population as they complete their courses will offer a return on investment that extends beyond graduation.

Scholarships for Graduate Students

To avoid large student loan payments after graduation, learners can apply for multiple scholarships. Below, we highlight a dozen scholarships for students pursuing a master’s degree or a doctorate. Pay special attention to application deadlines and components to ensure success.

  • Scholarships for All Graduate Students

    AICP Scholarship Program

    Who Can Apply: The Association of Insurance Compliance Professionals offers this scholarship to graduate students majoring in a business finance-related field, like insurance, economics, mathematics, or risk management. Applicants must possess at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA.
    Amount: $1,500

    Education Matters Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Any student who believes in the importance of college can apply for this scholarship. To qualify, applicants must write 250 words about why education matters. Unigo awards the scholarship to a qualifying U.S. citizen attending college within the 50 states or District of Columbia.
    Amount: $5,000

  • LGBTQ Scholarships

    Audre Lorde Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: The National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging awards funds each year to Black lesbians and lesbians of color older than 40. Applicants must communicate how they make a positive difference in their community to qualify.
    Amount: At least $1,000

    Gamma Mu Foundation

    Who Can Apply: Each year, this organization provides scholarships to gay men under age 35 who want to continue their education. Applicants must attend an accredited institution and possess U.S. citizenship to qualify.
    Amount: Varies

  • Scholarships for MBA Students

    Bright Mind Sholarships

    Who Can Apply: Graduate business majors can participate in the Brightest Minds scholarship. This competition requires students to complete a GMAT practice test, which requires a 75-minute verbal component and a 75-minute quantitative component.
    Amount: Up to $25,000

    Fertitta Veterans Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Military members pursuing a summer-intensive MBA from New York University Stern may qualify for this award. Recipients can still qualify for other veteran benefits, like Yellow Ribbon funding.
    Amount: Varies

  • Scholarships for Students with Disabilities

    Family Epilepsy Scholarship Program

    Who Can Apply: Each year, the Epilepsy Foundation awards 30 students with scholarship funds. To qualify, students must demonstrate academic and personal achievement despite living with epilepsy.
    Amount: Up to $5,000

    Jackson-Stricks Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Students with physical challenges who attend college in the New York metropolitan area can apply for this scholarship. The National Council of Jewish Women’s New York chapter funds the scholarship.
    Amount: $2,500

  • Scholarships for Veterans

    American Veterans Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: American Veterans provides this scholarship to veterans as well as active-duty, guard, and reserves members and their spouses. The organization awards these funds based on academic merit, academic promise, and financial need.
    Amount: Up to $12,000

    Akin Law Military Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: This law-firm-funded scholarship awards veterans and their immediate family members. Recipients can attend a two-year or four-year program. Applicants must demonstrate financial need.
    Amount: $1,000

  • Scholarships for Women

    Federally Employed Women Scholarship

    Who Can Apply: Federally Employed Women partners with Grantham University to offer three scholarships each year to its members. Alternatively, the member’s spouse or child can accept the award. This scholarship requires an essay component.
    Amount: $5,000

    P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education

    Who Can Apply: Women with U.S. or Canadian citizenship, or legal permanent resident status can apply for this scholarship. The organization offers the one-time grant to applicants who demonstrate financial need.
    Amount: Up to $3,000

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