Financial Aid for Graduate Students

By Genevieve Carlton

Published on July 23, 2021

Financial Aid for Graduate Students

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Graduate school can be costly. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, graduate degrees cost over $19,000 per year in 2018-19. However, graduate degree-holders earn higher salaries and face a lower unemployment rate than professionals without a graduate degree.

Grad school can pay off — especially for students who maximize their financial aid. Many forms of financial aid for graduate students exist. Learners can apply for scholarships, grants, assistantships, fellowships, and loans. These forms of financial aid can provide thousands of dollars a year toward a graduate degree.

This page explains the FAFSA for graduate students, the different forms of graduate student financial aid, and how to get more financial aid for graduate school.

Frequently Asked Questions About Financial Aid

Q. What is the maximum financial aid for graduate students?

Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 per year in direct unsubsidized loans. They can also take out PLUS loans and private loans.

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

Yes. Every master's and doctoral student should complete the FAFSA. In addition to qualifying for federal financial aid, some scholarships and grants require FAFSA information.

Q. Can graduate students get Pell Grants?

No. Federal Pell Grants fund undergraduates who demonstrate financial need. However, graduate students qualify for other grants and scholarships.

Q. Does the FAFSA give grants for grad school?

Yes. The federal student aid program gives TEACH Grants and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants to graduate students.

 
 

Tips for Getting More Financial Aid for Grad School

1. Ask a School to Reconsider or Re-evaluate Your Financial Aid Offer

Graduate students can ask prospective schools to reconsider their financial aid offer. If their financial circumstances have changed since submitting the FAFSA, students can resubmit the FAFSA to potentially qualify for more aid. Similarly, admitted enrollees can ask for additional institutional aid.

When asking schools about graduate student financial aid, inquire about the full range of aid. This includes federal loans and any scholarships and grants the school offers. Students should also request information about graduate assistantships, fellowships, and work-study opportunities.

2. Be Appreciative, Polite, and Concise When Negotiating With Prospective Schools

During a salary negotiation, job candidates who act professionally increase their chances of success. The same applies to graduate funding negotiations. When communicating with grad schools, express appreciation for the admission offer and financial aid package. Politely inquire about additional funding opportunities or funding for subsequent years of the program. And stay concise. Rather than rambling on about your expenses, remain focused on the goal.

Admitted students can write a negotiation letter to ask for additional funding or inquire about other graduate student financial aid opportunities. Admitted students typically send this letter to their school's financial aid office.

3. Approach One School With a Better Offer From Another

In the best scenario, applicants receive admission offers with a financial aid package from multiple schools. As with competing job offers, admitted students can contact their top choice and ask if they can match a better financial aid offer. For example, if one program offers one year of graduate assistantship funding but another offers two years, admitted students can ask the first program to extend the offer to two years.

When asking schools to match another offer, provide clear information on the competing offer. During negotiations, always express interest in the program. Avoid negotiating for a higher financial aid package if you know you will turn down that school's admission offer.

4. Calculate What You Need

Graduate students need a clear idea of their financial aid needs when negotiating with programs. Rather than simply asking for more money, calculate the cost at different schools. Keep in mind that some programs cannot offer institutional aid above the cost of tuition.

However, students should mention any unique circumstances. For example, a financial aid package may cover in-state tuition and the graduate student must pay the out-of-state rate. Admitted students can request additional aid to pay the higher tuition rate or request a waiver to pay the in-state rate.

5. Persistence Can Pay Off

Most graduate students review their financial aid offers and accept one school's offer. However, it pays to negotiate financial aid for graduate students. Investing some extra work during the admissions process can mean smaller student loan payments in the future.

Be persistent, even if you do not hear back from a school. Consider contacting the financial aid office, the department chair, or the college dean. Sometimes a phone call gets a faster response than an email. As the deadline for accepting the admission offer approaches, make sure to get a firm answer on the financial aid offer.

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Forms of Graduate Student Financial Aid

Scholarships rank at the top of the list when it comes to financial aid for graduate students. Grad students can apply for multiple scholarships, increasing their odds of winning money for grad school. Apply for scholarships based on your degree, career plans, university, and local area. Grants do not require repayment, providing free money for graduate students. The TEACH Grant, Fulbright Program, and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant support graduate students. Unlike scholarships and grants, loans require repayment. As a result, graduate students should exhaust grants and scholarships before taking out loans. When borrowing money for graduate school, prioritize federal loans first. These offer lower interest rates and more repayment options. Graduate students submit the FAFSA to receive federal loans. Work-study programs pay graduate students for part-time work during school. Many work-study jobs occur on campus. Schools typically place graduate students in a role related to their field of study. Graduate students must complete the FAFSA to qualify for a federal work-study program. Many employers offer tuition remission programs or other programs to cover educational expenses. This benefit typically covers $5,250 per year of tuition and related expenses. Employees may need to pay tuition upfront and apply for the money at the end of the semester through their human resources department.

Graduate students should complete the FAFSA annually. Fortunately, they enjoy a simpler process than undergrads. The federal student aid program automatically considers graduate students financially independent. As a result, grad students do not need to provide financial information about their parents. Applicants must still provide information from their most recent tax return and information on their financial assets.

Students planning to avoid loans should still complete the FAFSA. Other forms of aid, such as need-based scholarships and fellowships, may require FAFSA information. The FAFSA also qualifies applicants for grants and work-study programs.

Grad School Scholarships

Expert Advice

Stephanie Hanigan works at Southern Oregon University to ensure grant and scholarship funding is current. Here, she shares her insights for grad students.

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

Graduate students should research the average salary for positions specific to their degree. Income can vary significantly by geographic location, so students should research the pay and benefits offered in their desired area. They should also consider that area's cost of living.

Additionally, students should calculate their current monthly expenses. They can then determine whether or not they can afford the additional expense of a loan repayment. Securing funding that does not require repayment, like grants and scholarships, is the absolute best method to finance your education.

Investing the effort to research and apply for financial aid is time well spent, especially if you receive a grant or scholarship. Students should look for funding specific to their academic department, degree, or career field. They should also research grants or scholarships from their institution. It can also pay to look for military, tribal, or cultural funding.

Q. How can students stand out on their scholarship application?

Think outside the box and then go further. Most students answer scholarship application questions similarly. If students are asked, "What is your greatest achievement?" most will answer, "being accepted to college." While this answer may be true, the applicant blends in with others who submitted a similar answer.

Focus on what makes you stand out. Consider your responses and whether or not they are memorable. Be open with the information you share so the reader can connect to your story. However, stay mindful about what 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. Use the one that will leave a positive, lasting impression.

Q. When considering programs and universities, how should students think about their return on investment?

When pursuing further education, students are investing in a school's academic content and reputation. They become a member of the school community. As such, students are as much a reflection of the school as the school is of them. Students should contemplate this aspect when considering their return on investment. Receiving a degree from an institution of higher learning forever ties the student to that school. Applicants should consider this when researching and selecting a school.

Students should also weigh the support offered by the college or university. This support reflects the school's investment in enrollees. Ultimately, the experience of mastering the academic curriculum to earn the degree and the available support offer a return on investment that extends beyond graduation.

Scholarships for Graduate Students

AICP Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: Learners pursuing a degree in a business-related field, including finance, management, and economics may apply. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Amount: $1,500

Education Matters Scholarship

Who Can Apply: U.S. students qualify for the scholarship, which funds college costs. Applicants must submit an essay on why education matters to them and how they would convince others that attending college matters.

Amount: $5,000

Fertitta Veterans Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This veterans scholarship at New York University Stern School of Business helps veterans afford a master of business administration program. The scholarship funds students during an intensive summer program.

Amount: Varies

Federally Employed Women Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The program, a partnership between Federally Employed Women (FEW) and Grantham University, offers scholarships for graduate students. Applicants submit an essay and must be a member of FEW or the spouse or child of a member.

Amount: $5,000

P.E.O. Program for Continuing Education

Who Can Apply: The program offers need-based grants to women completing a degree or certificate. Recipients must use the grant to cover educational expenses such as tuition, books, testing fees, and graduation fees. The grant also covers childcare costs.

Amount: Up to $3,000

Genevieve Carlton

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.

See articles by Genevieve

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