Financial Aid for Graduate School Introduction

So you have decided to pursue graduate education. After choosing the program you want to enroll in, your next step should be getting informed about financial aid for graduate school.

An advanced degree is an excellent asset for your career: it could open a world of opportunities for you and give you a great advantage throughout your career. A higher degree usually means a higher salary and a better position in the work hierarchy. However, going to grad school is an investment and its cost is not something you should take lightly.

It helps to start by having a sound financial plan. Tuition is not the only cost to consider: you also need to think about paying for books and supplies you'll need, transportation costs, and covering other living expenses while you are getting your degree.

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

Exploring all available options can be overwhelming, so here is our breakdown.

Financial help for students can be merit- and 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 merit-based, while loans are usually need-based.

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

As soon as you get accepted into a graduate program, you should start looking into different scholarships you might be eligible for. They are awarded based on various criteria, with some of the most common reasons being academic merit, accomplishments in extracurriculars (like athletic activities), your field of study, and the promotion of diversity initiatives.

Factors that help your application stand out include a high GPA, a well-written statement of purpose, strong letters of recommendation, alignment with the scholarship's objectives, and a strong interview performance.

There are numerous scholarships available to grad students; the good news is that you can apply to as many as you want. One downside is that it can take a lot of time to fill out application forms and write essays, so plan wisely and prioritize those with criteria you are confident you meet. Be sure to do careful scholarship research, filter to find the right ones for you, follow application deadlines, and submit a complete application.

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

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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

Federal student loans are funded directly by the federal government. The first thing you'll need to do is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Based on the most recent data from the Department of Education, the average grad school loan debt is $76,620, and graduate students are responsible for about 46% of federal student loan debt. That shows you that federal loans are a popular financing option among grad students, but it also tells you that you need to carefully consider the amount and conditions under which you are getting the money.

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 Conclusion

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 your institution's financial aid office and by doing your own research. Ensure you know how much money you'll need to repay, as you'll be repaying the loan with interest.


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.

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