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How to Get Financial Aid for Graduate School

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Content was accurate at the time of publication.

Can you get financial aid for grad school? Yes, you can use grants, scholarships, work-study programs and assistantships to help pay for your grad school expenses.

Submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and applying for scholarships every year can reduce the amount you need to borrow in graduate student loans. Here’s what you need to know about funding for graduate school.

Types of financial aid for grad school

Whether you’re looking for financial aid for your master’s degree or another advanced degree, check out the grad school funding options below before resorting to expensive student loans.

  • FAFSA: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can help you access federal, state and school-based grants, as well as work-study opportunities.
  • Scholarships and grants: Many government and private organizations offer a range of scholarships based on merit, demographics or field of study.
  • Fellowships: In exchange for research, a fellowship can help pay your way to your advanced degree.
  • Assistantships: A teaching or assistant role could provide graduate students a living stipend or tuition waiver.
  • Tuition reimbursement: Some companies offer student loan repayment assistance as an employee perk.

FAFSA for grad school

You likely filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as an undergraduate student. The process of getting financial aid for graduate school is basically the same, with eligibility determined by financial need. However, FAFSA doesn’t have a maximum income cutoff — meaning it’s worth applying even if you think you make too much money.

While there’s no age cutoff to file the FAFSA for graduate school, there are eligibility limitations. You must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen enrolled or accepted in an eligible degree or certificate program. Furthermore, having a criminal conviction, having previously defaulted on a student loan or owing a Pell Grant overpayment could affect your eligibility for federal aid.

Since the Department of Education now considers you an independent student, your grad school award package is based solely on your (and your spouse’s, if applicable) income and assets. Your parents’ financial details aren’t typically required, except for certain professional programs, like medical school.

In addition to loans, FAFSA can help grad students receive the following types of aid:

School and state aid

Most schools offer institutional aid based on financial need or academic excellence. These are school-sponsored grants that generally don’t need to be repaid, although there may be specific stipulations, such as maintaining a certain GPA.

You should also contact the state grant agency to determine if your state offers financial aid for grad students. Even if you’re considering an out-of-state school, the relevant state agency can tell you about their available aid.

Check out the Department of Education’s map to find your state’s contact information.

Work-study awards

Work-study programs vary by school and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Your award amount is based on your level of financial need, your school’s funding and when you apply.

Graduate and professional students can be paid by the hour or on a regular salary, with the funds going directly to you. However, you can choose to have your paycheck fund your school expenses.

Federal grants

If eligible, your aid package will include federal and state grants based on your field of study, interest or school type. For example, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant provides up to $4,000 a year to students committed to teaching in low-income or high-needs schools after graduate school.

While federal Pell Grants are typically reserved for undergraduate students, you may be eligible for a Pell Grant for graduate school if enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teacher certification program. These are need-based funds that you won’t normally need to repay.

What are the important FAFSA deadlines?You should file your FAFSA as soon as possible after Oct. 1 of the year before each enrollment period, as many federal student aid programs have limited funds and are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.

  • Oct. 1: The new FAFSA season opens.
  • June 30: Previous FAFSA year closes.

Although the federal deadline isn’t until June, many states and schools set their own FAFSA deadlines, with some as early as February. In addition, grants for graduate school have various deadlines, with certain options available throughout the year.

Check with your college to verify which application you should complete if you are applying for a summer session.

Scholarships and grants

Another way to get free money for graduate school is through grad school scholarships and grants. While finding a scholarship that fits your specific needs and criteria can take time, reducing your overall student loan debt is worth the effort.

There are a variety of popular scholarship websites to help you find money for graduate school, including Fastweb, Peterson’s and, among others. Check out our guide to scholarship search tools for more scholarship resources.


Fellowships are merit-based grants that can cover your tuition, room and board and other living expenses. You can apply for an institutional fellowship through your school or find a fellowship offered by another organization.

Not only can these fellowships help keep your educational costs low, but they can also allow you to hone your skills in the field and build your resume. Your fellowship work might tie directly into your future career, including duties such as teaching or research in a particular area.

ProFellow offers a searchable database of fellowships and application tips to help you in the process. You can also search for fellowships with the help of a database maintained by UCLA.


Assistantships, similar to fellowships, can provide living stipends for your work as a teaching or research assistant. However, these roles tend to require a significant time commitment.

The average assistantship position requires between 10 and 20 hours of work per week and often involves teaching undergraduates, conducting lab work for your professor or similar tasks. Your workload can add up fast when paired with a challenging course load.

Although assistantships are common, they can be limited in number. Reach out to your school as soon as possible to see what’s available, and apply quickly to ensure you don’t come up empty-handed.

Tuition reimbursement

If you already have a job and plan to keep working while in grad school, check if your employer offers tuition reimbursement. Many large companies offer this benefit to employees pursuing or paying off their higher education.

Some companies limit the amount you can be reimbursed for tuition each year, while others may have an unlimited policy. Talk to your human resources department to find out what your company offers.

Student loans for graduate school

If you’ve exhausted the grad school financial aid options above, federal and private student loans could help fill any remaining gaps in your funding for graduate school.

Federal student loans

The FAFSA is the only way to obtain federal student loans for grad school. You should prioritize federal loans over private ones since they come with lower interest rates and more flexibility, including access to income-driven repayment plans.

Remember to complete your FAFSA early to access the most funds possible. The application period opens in October before the start of the new school year — so for the 2023-24 year, you could have filed your FAFSA as early as Oct. 1, 2022.

As a grad student, you have two federal student loan options:

  • Direct unsubsidized loans: With a current interest rate of 6.5% and a one-time loan disbursement fee of 1.057%, Direct unsubsidized loans can help you save on interest and fees compared to PLUS loans (see below). However, direct loans have an annual borrowing limit of $20,500 and a lifetime cap of $138,500. The lifetime limit includes federal loans from your undergraduate degree.
  • Grad PLUS loans: At present, PLUS loans have an interest rate of 7.54% and a disbursement fee of 4.228%, making it the most costly type of federal loan. However, PLUS loans don’t limit how much you can borrow over your college career, allowing you to borrow up to the total cost of attendance for your school.

Unfortunately, graduate students aren’t eligible to receive subsidized student loans. If you feel like you didn’t receive adequate federal funding, you can ask for more financial aid in an appeal.

Private student loans

Unlike government-funded federal loans, private student loans are lent out by banks, credit unions and other financial institutions. It’s crucial to weigh the pros and cons of private student loans before taking on more debt.

While they can help in a bind, private loans don’t offer the same protections as federal loans, such as income-driven repayment plans or federal student loan forgiveness. Furthermore, private loan interest rates are typically higher than federal loans, costing you more.

However, your personal financial situation might make private loans a necessity. If that’s the case, research private student loan lenders to find the most competitive offer. Unlike federal financial aid, your credit score generally determines your private student loan rates and terms.

If you’re pursuing a degree beyond a bachelor’s, you’re considered a graduate student. This can include working to earn a master’s degree or doctorate/Ph.D. or enrollment in a professional program such as law school or medical school.

It gets tricky if you tackle a joint undergraduate/graduate program, since some schools deem you a graduate student once you start taking graduate-level classes.

If you’re getting a second bachelor’s degree, you could also be considered a graduate student when receiving financial aid. This is determined on an individual basis, so it’s best to talk to your school about these unique scenarios.

Grad school is the dream of many who wish for career advancement, want to change careers or simply love learning. But it’s not a dream that comes free, even when the tuition is covered through grants and other means.

Unless you go to school part time, the time you spend in grad school is time you miss out on earning a salary.

That said, graduate school can also boost your pay depending on the degree you get — and it might even open doors to careers you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. Like all investments, make your own list of grad school pros and cons before you decide, because it’s not the right path for everyone.

Yes, financial aid is available for grad students via the online FAFSA form, just as is the case for undergraduates. After filling out your FAFSA, you’ll receive a breakdown of your options, which may include federal student loans, work-study programs and school- and state-funded grants and scholarships. See more above.

After submitting your FAFSA for grad school, you should receive a Student Aid Report (SAR) — a summary of your FAFSA information — within three to five business days. All colleges you applied to will review the SAR.

From there, the schools that decide to admit you will send a formal acceptance letter and a financial aid award letter. These typically arrive in March or April.

The maximum amount you can borrow with a federal unsubsidized grad school loan is $20,500 per year. If your cost of attendance and other living expenses are exceptionally high, you might need more than what your grants and scholarships can provide. A grad PLUS loan, private grad school loans or getting a college job might help cover any remaining financial gaps.

Check out our guide to private student loans for graduate school for more info.

The average grad school student received $27,300 in 2021-2022 from federal loans, grants, work-study programs and tax credits.

However, amounts vary depending on your program’s tuition, the cost of living and your eligibility for additional grants. Your financial aid package will typically include a mix of grants or scholarships, loans and work-study jobs. If you’re confused by what it means, contact your school’s financial aid office.

And keep in mind, you don’t have to accept all the loans offered. You can always return unused student loan money if you find you don’t need it.

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