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Five important things you should know about grad school financial aid

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December 3, 2020

For many students, pursuing a graduate or professional degree can provide important career advantages, but for some students the advanced degree is not be possible without financial aid.

Whether you plan to pursue a graduate program right after completing your undergrad degree or if you've taken a few years off, there are some things you should know about financial aid for graduate students:

  • Graduate students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA information will be used to determine eligibility for federal financial aid and also may be used by the school you plan to attend to determine eligibility for some of their financial aid programs.
  • All graduate and professional students are considered independent students on the FAFSA. Unlike undergrad students, who may be considered dependent and need to provide parental information, graduate and professional students do not need to provide parental information.
  • To fund their education, some graduate students work as a graduate assistant, which could include teaching, research, or other work on the campus. Make sure you let the program to which you are applying know of your interest in graduate assistantship positions.
  • Graduate students are eligible for some federal need-based aid, but it is somewhat limited compared to what's available for undergraduate students. For example, some graduate student may be eligible for Pell Grants, but only if enrolled in a postbaccalaureate teacher certification program. The Department of Education provides a "Financial Aid for Graduate and Professional Students" flyer, which has more information about some of the federal programs, including Direct PLUS Loans.
  • There are scholarships available for graduate students. Search online with scholarship database services and be sure to check with the financial aid or program office at the school you plan to attend.

If you have taken out any student loans for your undergraduate education, you can have them placed in in-school deferment while in graduate school. However, if you plan to borrow additional money for a graduate program, make sure you only borrow what you can afford to repay.