How Can You Get Financial Aid for Graduate School?

Attending and completing graduate school is a significant commitment that involves not only intellectual and professional growth but also substantial financial investment. The costs associated with graduate education can be daunting, encompassing tuition, fees, books, supplies, living expenses, and other related costs. As such, understanding the various financial aid options available to you is crucial for making informed decisions and successfully managing these expenses. Financial aid can come in many forms, including scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs, each with its own set of eligibility criteria and benefits.

The importance of financial aid in graduate education cannot be overstated. Many students find themselves balancing the pursuit of advanced degrees with existing financial obligations, such as undergraduate student loans, family responsibilities, or other personal expenses. Financial aid helps to alleviate some of these burdens, making it feasible for students to focus on their studies and professional development. Without adequate financial support, the opportunity to advance one’s education and career could be significantly limited, especially for those from lower-income backgrounds or those who do not have the luxury of financial backing from family. Therefore, exploring all available financial aid options is a critical step in planning for graduate school.

Scholarships and grants are among the most desirable forms of financial aid because they do not need to be repaid. Scholarships are typically awarded based on merit, such as academic achievement, leadership qualities, or community involvement, while grants are often need-based, providing support to those who demonstrate financial need. These types of aid can come from a variety of sources, including universities, private organizations, government agencies, and professional associations. Each scholarship or grant program has its own application process and criteria, and it’s essential to thoroughly research and apply to as many relevant opportunities as possible. This proactive approach can significantly reduce the financial strain of graduate school and enable students to complete their degrees with minimal debt.

Loans, while not as favorable as scholarships and grants, play a vital role in financing graduate education. Federal student loans, such as Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Grad PLUS Loans, offer flexible repayment options and lower interest rates compared to private loans. These loans provide a reliable source of funding that can cover tuition, fees, and living expenses. It is important for students to understand the terms and conditions of these loans, including interest rates, repayment plans, and any available deferment or forgiveness options. By carefully managing their loan obligations, students can use these resources to support their educational goals while planning for future financial stability. Additionally, private loans from banks and other financial institutions can supplement federal aid, but they should be considered carefully due to potentially higher interest rates and less favorable repayment terms.

Work-study programs are another valuable resource for graduate students. These programs provide part-time employment opportunities, often on campus or within the community, allowing students to earn money to help cover their educational expenses. Work-study positions are typically related to the student’s field of study, providing both financial support and practical experience that can enhance their academic and professional development. Participating in a work-study program can also help students build a network of professional contacts and gain valuable skills that will be beneficial in their future careers. Understanding the availability and benefits of work-study opportunities is an important aspect of the financial aid landscape for graduate students.

Navigating the financial aid process can be complex, but it is a critical aspect of preparing for graduate school. Prospective students should start their financial aid search early and take advantage of all available resources, including university financial aid offices, online databases, and professional networks. By thoroughly researching and applying for various types of aid, students can develop a comprehensive funding plan that supports their educational aspirations. In addition to federal and institutional aid, students should explore external scholarships and grants, employer tuition assistance programs, and innovative funding options like crowdfunding. This multifaceted approach can help ensure that financial constraints do not hinder the pursuit of advanced education.

By understanding the different types of aid available and diligently applying for scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study programs, students can effectively manage the costs of graduate education. This proactive and informed approach to financial aid can make the dream of obtaining a graduate degree a reality, enabling students to achieve their academic and professional goals without being overwhelmed by financial stress. Whether through merit-based scholarships, need-based grants, or flexible loan options, financial aid opens doors to opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach.

The good news is that financial aid for graduate school comes in many forms. Here is our detailed guide to help you explore alternatives, find the best way to afford grad school, and avoid ending up with student debt you'll struggle to repay.

Types of Financial Aid For Graduate Students

Financial help for students can be merit- or need-based. The three main types of financial help you can get to pay for your graduate education are grants, scholarships, and loans. Grants and scholarships are generally based on academic merit, while loans are usually based on financial need.

Grants and scholarships are often considered better than loans because you will need to pay back loans with interest, while grants and scholarships are basically free money that you don’t need to repay. You should be well informed about each of these options, learn to differentiate between them, and carefully consider how to use them as efficiently as possible. Keep in mind, too, that you may need to combine these sources of funding in order to afford graduate education.

Graduate School Scholarships

Graduate school scholarships are a critical resource for students seeking advanced degrees. These scholarships can significantly alleviate the financial burden associated with graduate education, making it more accessible to a wider range of students. Scholarships for graduate students come from various sources, including universities, private organizations, professional associations, and government agencies. Each of these sources has its own set of criteria and application processes, which can range from merit-based awards to need-based assistance and specialized scholarships for specific fields of study. By tapping into these diverse funding opportunities, students can potentially reduce their reliance on loans and other forms of financial aid, thus minimizing debt upon graduation.

The process of finding and applying for graduate school scholarships requires diligence and persistence. Students should begin their search early, ideally before they even apply to graduate programs. Many scholarships have early deadlines, and some require extensive application materials, including essays, recommendation letters, and detailed personal statements. Utilizing resources such as university financial aid offices, online scholarship databases, and professional networks can help streamline the search process. Additionally, attending informational workshops and reaching out to current scholarship recipients can provide valuable insights and tips for crafting a compelling application. It's important for students to keep track of deadlines and requirements for each scholarship they intend to apply for, as missing a deadline or failing to submit a complete application can disqualify them from consideration.

Scholarships for Master’s Degrees

Moreover, it's essential for students to consider the impact of scholarships on their overall financial aid package. Receiving a scholarship can affect eligibility for other types of financial aid, such as grants and federal student loans. Students should consult with their university's financial aid office to understand how scholarships will be integrated into their overall financial plan. Some scholarships may be renewable, offering funding for multiple years of study, while others might be one-time awards. Understanding the terms and conditions of each scholarship is crucial for effective financial planning. Furthermore, students should explore opportunities for external scholarships that may not be directly affiliated with their university, as these can provide additional financial support and often come with fewer restrictions.

Grants For Graduate Schools

Grants are an excellent way to cover the cost of your advanced degree. They can be provided by the state or federal governments, your school, or public and private organizations. Examples of popular grants include the TEACH Grant, ​​AAUW Career Development Grants, and those offered by the Fulbright Program.

Some grants are only available to students studying in specific educational areas, such as teaching, nursing, or advanced technical positions. Minorities and other groups benefit from grants designed to promote their communities, such as the United Negro College Fund for African American students, the United Negro College Fund for Asian, Hispanic, and Native American students, and gender-specific grants for female students. The military also provides college funding, and first-generation college students receive priority treatment from some aid organizations.

The grant application process is similar to that for scholarships. You usually need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or a separate application, and you need to provide financial information and write a statement that outlines your academic accomplishments and objectives.

getting financial aid for grad school

Source: Unsplash

Assistantships and Fellowships

Many universities offer assistantships and fellowships as a form of financial aid for graduate students. Assistantships typically require students to work part-time in roles such as teaching assistants, research assistants, or administrative assistants. These positions often provide a stipend and may include tuition waivers. Fellowships, on the other hand, are merit-based awards that usually come with a larger financial package, often covering full tuition and providing a living stipend. They allow students to focus on their studies or research without the obligation to work. Applying for assistantships and fellowships often involves a separate application process, which may include interviews, letters of recommendation, and detailed research proposals.

Employer Tuition Assistance for Graduate School

If you are currently employed, check if your employer offers tuition assistance or reimbursement programs. Many companies support their employees' professional development by providing financial aid for further education. These programs can cover a portion or even the entirety of your tuition costs. Some employers require you to commit to staying with the company for a certain period after completing your degree. This is a beneficial arrangement for those looking to advance their careers within their current organization.

Private Loans and Institutional Aid

While federal aid should be your first option, private loans can also help bridge the financial gap. Private loans from banks or other financial institutions typically have higher interest rates than federal loans and may require a co-signer. It's essential to carefully compare terms and interest rates before committing to a private loan. Additionally, some institutions offer their own financial aid packages, which may include low-interest loans, grants, or scholarships. Consult with your university's financial aid office to explore these options.

Grad School Grants and Fellowships from Professional Organizations

Professional organizations and societies often offer grants and fellowships to support graduate students in their fields. These awards can be based on academic merit, research potential, or financial need. For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) offers Graduate Research Fellowships for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Similarly, the American Psychological Association (APA) provides funding for psychology students. Joining relevant professional organizations and staying informed about their funding opportunities can significantly benefit your financial aid search.

Crowdfunding and External Scholarships

In recent years, crowdfunding has become a viable option for some students to raise money for their education. Platforms like GoFundMe and Kickstarter allow you to create campaigns and share your story with potential donors. While this approach requires effort in marketing and outreach, it can be a supplemental source of funding. Additionally, numerous external scholarships are available through foundations, nonprofits, and private companies. These scholarships often have specific eligibility criteria and application processes, so it’s crucial to start your search early and apply to as many as possible.

By exploring these various financial aid options, you can strategically plan your funding for graduate school and reduce the burden of debt. Combining federal aid, scholarships, assistantships, employer assistance, and other resources will help make your graduate education financially attainable. Start early, stay organized, and leverage all available resources to maximize your financial aid opportunities.

Understanding FAFSA for Graduate School

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial step for any prospective graduate student seeking financial aid. The FAFSA is a form administered by the U.S. Department of Education that determines your eligibility for various types of federal financial aid, including loans, grants, and work-study programs. Understanding the FAFSA process and its specific implications for graduate students can significantly impact your financial planning and ease the burden of graduate education costs.

Why FAFSA Matters for Graduate Students

FAFSA serves as the gateway to federal financial aid. Unlike undergraduate students, graduate students are considered independent for the purposes of federal financial aid. This means that only your financial information, and not your parents’, will be taken into account when determining your eligibility for aid. Completing the FAFSA can qualify you for federal loans, such as Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Grad PLUS Loans, which often come with more favorable terms than private loans. Moreover, some states and schools use the information provided on the FAFSA to award their own forms of financial aid, including grants and scholarships.

Steps to Complete the FAFSA for Master’s Degrees

  1. Gather Necessary Documents: Before you begin the FAFSA, collect important documents such as your Social Security number, driver’s license, federal income tax returns, W-2 forms, and records of untaxed income.
  2. Create an FSA ID: Your FSA ID, which consists of a username and password, allows you to sign the FAFSA electronically. You can create your FSA ID on the Federal Student Aid website.
  3. Fill Out the FAFSA Form: The FAFSA form is available online at the Federal Student Aid website or via the myStudentAid mobile app. Ensure you select the correct form for the appropriate academic year.
  4. List Your Chosen Schools: Include all the graduate schools you are considering on your FAFSA. This allows those schools to receive your financial information and determine your eligibility for their aid programs.
  5. Submit the Form: Review your FAFSA for accuracy and completeness before submitting it. You can submit the FAFSA starting October 1st for the next academic year. It is beneficial to submit the form as early as possible to maximize your financial aid opportunities.
  6. Review Your Student Aid Report (SAR): After submitting the FAFSA, you will receive a Student Aid Report summarizing your information. Review the SAR carefully and correct any errors.

Once your FAFSA is processed, the graduate schools you listed will send you financial aid award letters detailing the types and amounts of aid you qualify for. These packages may include a combination of federal loans, work-study opportunities, and possibly institutional aid. Carefully compare these offers, considering factors such as loan interest rates, repayment options, and the total amount of aid.

Meeting FAFSA deadlines is crucial for securing financial aid. The federal deadline for the FAFSA is June 30th of the academic year for which you are applying for aid. However, many states and schools have earlier deadlines, and some forms of aid are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Check with your specific graduate programs for their priority deadlines to ensure you do not miss out on available funds.

Student Loans For Graduate School

Taking out a loan should be your last resort for paying for graduate school, as this is money you will have to repay to the lender with interest.

There are two types of loans you should consider: federal and private.

Federal loans

There are five types of federal student loans: Direct Subsidized Loans (Stafford loans), Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Perkins Loans, Direct PLUS Loans, and Direct Consolidation Loans.

  1. Direct Subsidized Loans are not available to graduate students.
  2. Direct Unsubsidized Loans (unsubsidized Stafford loans) come with eligibility requirements, but you don't have to prove financial need.
  3. Perkins Loans are available to graduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need.
  4. Direct PLUS Loans are available to eligible graduate students and parents.
  5. Direct Consolidation Loans allow borrowers to consolidate multiple federal student loans into a single loan with a single monthly payment.

Private loans

Private loans for grad students are the last option to explore, as they usually come with higher interest rates than federal loans. Make sure to get informed and compare private student loans to choose the best ones to apply for, as they are a valuable financial resource if used wisely.

These loans don't come from the government but from independent lenders, like banks or credit unions. They can help you in paying for living expenses, tuition, fees, and books while going to grad school. Private student loans frequently have flexible borrowing restrictions and may allow you to take out as much money as necessary to cover your educational costs. The terms and conditions of private loans differ depending on the lender. Note that the interest rates on them are usually higher than on federal loans.

When you are researching private loan options, make sure to take into account things like interest rates, repayment lengths, and other variables. Be careful to avoid borrowing a sum that will make repayment too challenging or is more than you are confident you can repay!

Financial Aid for Graduate School - Next Steps

Once you have learned to differentiate among different types of financial aid that might be available to you, the next step is to get more information by contacting each institution's financial aid office and by doing your own research on the other options outlined in this article. By addressing the financial realities of graduate school well before the first day of classes, you'll be in a much better position for long-term academic and professional successs.


Yes, you can get different types of financial aid for graduate school. To establish your eligibility, you need to explore the options available: scholarships, grants, and loans.

You can get up to $20,500 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans per year, with an aggregate limit of $138,500 (including any loans you've received as an undergrad). You can also get different grants and scholarships.

About The Author: