Going to grad school can be an exciting life choice. But paying for it can be stressful. There are many ways to find financial aid for graduate school. From loans to scholarships and even crowdfunding, you can find ways to lessen the financial burden of grad school.
How can you get financial aid for graduate school?
As a graduate student, you can still file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your school uses this information to determine what financial aid you’re eligible for.
Financial aid for graduate school comes from multiple sources, and filing the FAFSA is only the first step. You’ll receive an award letter from your school that will outline any school-based aid you may qualify for. This can include grants, assistantships and work-study programs. You can also choose to take out any federal student loans offered in your aid package, but these need to be paid back.
You can also apply for financial aid outside of the FAFSA. Scholarships and grants are offered by many other institutions. If you notice your financial aid award won’t cover your bases, you have options. Review the following types of financial aid for graduate school below to understand what these options are.
Financial aid for grad school you don’t have to pay back
You can get some or all of grad school paid for with money you don’t have to pay back. Look for the following options first when reviewing your award letter:
Scholarships are awards most often based on merit. While this can be academic merit, there are many scholarships awarded based on talent or demographics. Your school may provide scholarships, but you can also apply for scholarships outside of your school.
Grants are generally awarded based on financial need. They can also be awarded based on a dedicated service period. They are awarded by your school and other professional organizations.
Assistantships are most often given to doctoral candidates but can be given to master’s degree candidates as well. In an assistantship, you’ll spend time teaching, grading and helping professors in their research. You can receive either a research-based or teaching-based assistantship. The stipend you receive for this work will pay for your cost of tuition.
Fellowships are typically merit-based awards and fund your education for a period of time in return for your work. This kind of aid can be found across multiple fields. Many associations sponsor fellowships in order to get grad students interested in their company.
5. Work-study programs
Work-study programs are typically offered by schools based on need. Students do part-time work at the school and are paid for it. This is intended to help with tuition and living expenses.
In some cases, the type of financial aid you don’t have to pay back still leaves you with a financial gap. If you do need additional funding, you can consider student loans.
Financial aid for graduate school you’ll need to repay
On your award letter, you’ll probably notice you’ve been offered some student loans. These are federal student loans. You can also pursue private student loans with individual lenders if needed.
1. Federal student loans
Federal student loans for graduate students come in two types: unsubsidized loans (Stafford Loans) and Grad PLUS Loans. A Grad PLUS Loan requires an additional application after the FAFSA. Your school can direct you on how to fill out the application.
An unsubsidized federal student loan has a limit to how much you can borrow, while a Grad PLUS Loan will allow you to borrow the cost of attendance minus other financial aid. Both provide borrower protections and affordable repayment plans; they also remain eligible for student loan forgiveness. In general, you should take out federal student loans before taking out private student loans.
2. Private student loans
Private student loans are available through multiple lenders, including banks and financial institutions. When applying for private student loans, consider the interest rate and loan terms along with other benefits offered by the lender.
Keep in mind that private student loans require immediate repayment. They also aren’t eligible for loan forgiveness programs, so don’t choose these loans if you’re relying on forgiveness.
You want to minimize the amount you need to pay back after grad school. Avoid drastic measures, like taking on a second mortgage to pay for grad school. Stick to funding your education in ways that won’t put your family in a tough spot. Consider negotiating your financial aid package to make this happen.
Refinancing for private loans is also available down the line.
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Negotiating your financial aid for graduate school
Although you can look outside of your financial aid award letter for funding as mentioned above, you have one more option: negotiation.
You can always negotiate your financial aid with your school. This could mean asking for work-study or a specified aid amount. Whatever you need, be clear about it before asking for more funding.
Contact the person who signed your admission letter or contact the financial aid department. Below are two scripts you can follow to reach out for more aid. Regardless of which script you choose, be direct but not confrontational. This is a request, and your school doesn’t have to grant it.
I am delighted to be admitted to _____________________. I am considering my options and how to best pay for grad school. Does the school have a policy on reevaluating financial aid offers? If so, I would like to do so. Please let me know the next steps.
Thank you for your time.
Or you can contact the school’s financial aid office. Ideally, you’d go in person to talk about it, but if you can’t, follow this similar script:
To Whom it May Concern,
Going to __________________ school is a dream of mine! The financial aid package was generous, but I’m still trying to figure out how to best pay for all of _______________. Could you let me know of any scholarships still open for applications? Alternatively, may I be considered for any open work-study positions?
I appreciate all of your help working with me on this.
Remember to be specific when negotiating financial aid for graduate school. While these scripts don’t have precise numbers, you should be able to respond with an exact amount you need after they reply.
Negotiating can work — but not always. If it doesn’t, you may have to consider a more affordable school or find alternative ways to fund your graduate degree.
Alternative ways to fund grad school
There are some ways to pay for grad school that don’t entail the FAFSA at all.
This isn’t a guaranteed way to pay for school. However, it has been done, and you can write your own campaign to leverage funds. Websites like ScholarMatch and GoFundMe have been popular ways to crowdfund.
2. Employer funding
You can get a job while you’re in school to help pay for grad school. You might even already have one. Companies like Verizon and the United Postal Service (UPS) offer programs to help their employees go to grad school. These companies often have tuition reimbursement programs, so you can choose your program and school.
Your lifestyle also plays a major part in being able to pay for grad school. Keeping your expenses low can free up some money for tuition.
Limit the amount of your grad school debt
Taking on any kind of student debt impacts your future financial decisions. Finding financial aid for graduate school is important, but so is making sure you don’t dig yourself a hole you can’t climb out of.
Calculate your future salary whenever you consider taking on a form of financial aid you need to pay back. Make sure you’ll be able to afford the payments or work toward student loan forgiveness.