FAFSA for Graduate School: What You Should Know
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When you attend graduate school, it’s still important to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year.
While the application form itself is the same as the one you filled out as an undergraduate student, the FAFSA for graduate school differs in a few ways, including how your financial situation is considered, the types of financial aid you’re eligible to receive, and how much you can borrow.
Here’s what you need to know about the FAFSA for graduate school:
Financial aid available through the FAFSA for grad school
Federal financial aid opportunities aren’t as plentiful for graduate students as they are for undergrads, but there are still options to help you pay for the cost of your graduate degree.
Graduate students don’t qualify for Pell Grants, but they may be eligible for other federal grants, including:
- Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants: If you’re planning to go into education, you may be eligible to receive up to $4,000 each year with a TEACH Grant. To receive the grant, you must meet eligibility criteria and agree to teach full-time at least four years in a high-need field at an eligible school or educational service agency. You have eight years to complete your service obligation after you graduate or are no longer enrolled at the institution where you got your grant. Otherwise, your grant will be converted into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.
- Fulbright Grants: Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, Fulbright Grants are designed to help both undergraduate and graduate students study, teach, or conduct research in other countries. The department awards roughly 8,000 grants annually across most fields of study. You typically must be a U.S. citizen and meet other eligibility criteria.
Federal student loans
Taking out student loans isn’t always ideal, but if you need to, it’s generally better to start with federal student loans rather than private student loans. Federal loans come with benefits like access to income-driven repayment plans, student loan forgiveness programs, and generous deferment and forbearance options.
Two types of federal student loans are available to grad students. Each offers higher student loan limits than federal undergraduate loans:
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans: As a grad student, you can borrow up to $20,500 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans each academic year, and up to $138,500 in total between your undergraduate and graduate loans. These loans aren’t based on financial need, but you’re responsible for paying all the interest on them, including interest that accrues while you’re still in school.
- Grad PLUS Loans: Grad PLUS Loans offer more flexibility for more expensive graduate degrees, allowing you to borrow up to the total cost of attendance for your school minus any other financial aid you’ve received. However, you’ll need to go through a credit check, you must be enrolled at least half-time, and must meet the other eligibility requirements for federal student loans.
Federal work-study opportunities
The Federal Work-Study Program can help you find a job either on or off campus to help you pay for tuition and other educational expenses. There’s no guarantee that you’ll find a job, though, and it may or may not be related to your field of study.
Who can use the FAFSA for grad school?
As a graduate student, you’re considered an independent student, which means that you don’t need to include information about your parents’ financial status. You’ll just need to meet the following criteria to be eligible for federal student aid:
- You’re a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen.
- You’re enrolled or will enroll in an accredited university for a qualifying degree program.
- You can prove a financial need for most programs.
DACA students and the FAFSA
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students aren’t eligible for federal financial aid. However, most colleges and universities use FAFSA information to determine school-specific financial aid, so it’s still a good idea to fill out the form each year — this is true for both undergraduate and graduate students.
To be eligible to fill out the form, you’ll need a Social Security number. If you don’t have one, contact your school for more information about how to qualify for financial aid.
How to fill out the graduate school FAFSA
To fill out the FAFSA for graduate school, you’ll first want to gather all your necessary information and documents, including:
- Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID
- Social Security number or Alien Registration number if you’re not a U.S. citizen
- Bank account and investment account balances
- Federal tax returns
- Records of untaxed income
- Driver’s license number, if you have one
You should already have an FSA ID if you completed the FAFSA as an undergraduate. If you’ve forgotten it, you can request assistance through the FSA website. If you don’t have one yet, you’ll need to create one. Once you have your FSA ID, follow these steps to complete the FAFSA form:
- Start the application online by visiting fafsa.gov.
- Complete the Student Demographics section.
- List the schools you want the FAFSA information sent to.
- Answer questions about your dependency status.
- Provide information about your financial situation.
- Sign and submit your form online or by mail.
Fill the gaps with private student loans
In situations where federal student loans for grad students and other forms of financial aid fall short, it may be worth considering private student loans as a way to bridge the gap. Take some time to shop around and compare graduate student loans to help you find the best deals and maximize your interest savings.
You may also want to consider other ways to pay for grad school, such as taking a gap year to work between your undergraduate and graduate studies, working full-time while attending school part-time, or applying for private scholarship and grant opportunities.
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