Financial Aid Tips for Graduate Students

Graduate Student Tips

Getting admitted into graduate school took a big weight off my shoulders, but it didn’t last long. I was already financially strapped from paying for four years of undergrad and I soon had to figure out how to pay for grad school. With the help of federal student aid and funding from my school, I was able to go to grad school with all my school expenses covered. If you’re preparing for grad school, here are my tips for success.

 1. Start thinking about your graduate school finances early.

Before you even begin applications, you should understand what loans you already have and consider what your financial situation might look like as a graduate student. If you’re considering graduate school at the same institution you attended for undergrad, look for opportunities to get graduate credit while you’re still an undergrad. When I was an undergraduate senior, my university allowed me to take graduate courses that counted toward my master’s degree and saved me thousands in future tuition expenses.

2. Learn about the different types of federal aid for graduate students.

Your federal aid package will probably be different than what you were offered as an undergraduate. FAFSA4caster can give you an idea of what types of federal aid you will qualify for. Graduate students have a variety of federal student aid options and are considered independent on the FAFSA. Make sure you complete your FAFSA on time. You might have to complete it even before you know your admission status.

3. Seek funding opportunities at your particular university or graduate program.

Individual schools offer a variety of graduate funding options such as scholarships, graduate assistantships, and graduate fellowships. These are sometimes a more significant source of aid for graduate students than federal aid. When you’re trying to decide on a graduate program, make sure you compare the types of funding offered to students. Once you commit to a graduate program, proactively seek funding opportunities from your program or university.

4. Be proactive and stay on top of everything.

I enrolled in a graduate program at the same university as my undergraduate study, so I expected a smooth transition. A few weeks after I committed to my graduate program, I received a notification from the university saying I was ineligible for financial aid. After a moment of panic, I realized there was no way that this could be true. It turned out that there was confusion in the school’s computer system because I was enrolled as both an undergraduate and a graduate. The problem was easily fixed when I called my school’s financial aid office. Despite submitting my FAFSA and all other paperwork correctly and on time, I still ran into a few speed bumps. With grad school, it is ultimately your responsibility to make sure that everything is submitted correctly and to follow up when necessary. Being proactive can make the financial aid process go much more smoothly.

You can get additional information about financial aid for graduate students in the Financial Aid for Graduate and Professional Degree Students brochure.

Joe Oudin received his master’s degree in public policy from the University of Maryland, College Park. Joe also served as an intern with the Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.


  1. Before you even begin applications, you should understand what loans you already have this is very important and consider what your financial situation might look like as a graduate student. Personally I’ve faced this issue after taking education loan.

    • If your son completed the FAFSA (which is just a form, not a type of grant or scholarship), and he was accepted to a college, the college will send him an award letter. That letter might include grants, work-study, and federal loans. These are all considered aid. It is his choice to accept those types of aid to help pay for school. Was he offered Unsubsidized loans?

  2. For Graduate students, it is not really a question of whether there is adequate coverage. You are allowed to borrow up to $138,500 in Staffords ($20,500 per two semester award year) and an unlimited amount of Graduate Plus loans (up to cost of attendance for as long as you are enrolled for any number of degrees). It is more a question of borrowing within your means. Income based repayment plans with loan forgiveness have made the amount borrowed essentially moot, so you need to be conscientious enough to consider whether you or someone else will be paying off the loans.

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