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Financial Aid and FAFSA for Master’s Degrees: What to Know

Following undergrad, you might consider grad school. But what if you need more financial aid? Learn more about completing the FAFSA for a master's degree.

After you finish your bachelor’s degree, you might be interested in further education. However, getting a master’s degree can be expensive, especially since so much of the financial aid seems aimed at undergraduate students.

There are financial aid programs available for grad school. Here’s what you need to know about getting financial aid as a grad student.

How to Fill Out the FAFSA as a Master’s Student

One of the best ways to access federal financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA is a way for you to provide information to see which programs you’re eligible for.

As a graduate student, filling out the FAFSA is easier than as an undergrad. You’re considered an independent student, so you don’t have to provide parent information when you fill out the form. Additionally, you can speed up the process by using the IRS tool on the FAFSA to enter your tax return and financial information quickly and easily.

If you already have a Federal Student Aid ID from the U.S. Department of Education, you can use it to log in to your account and begin a new FAFSA. You’ll update your information and answer questions as you go through the form. It’s similar to filling out the FAFSA as an undergrad.

The types of financial aid you can get through the government include:

  • Federal student loans (unsubsidized and PLUS)
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant
  • Federal work-study

There might be other forms of financial aid you can get by filling out this form as well. Your aid will be given to you at the beginning of the fall and spring semesters of the academic year, similar to how you received aid as an undergraduate student.

What Are the Most Common Types of Federal Aid for Graduate Students?

The most common type of financial aid for grad students is student loans. As a graduate or professional student, you can get two types of federal student loans:

  • Direct Loans (unsubsidized but not subsidized loans)
  • Grad PLUS Loans

The limit for Direct Unsubsidized Loans for grad students is $20,500 per school year, and any U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen can get these loans without worrying about their credit history. If you still need more money to pay for school, you can get a Grad PLUS Loan from the federal government to cover up to the cost of attendance (minus any other aid you receive). For PLUS Loans, though, you need to show that you don’t have an adverse credit history.

Grad PLUS Loans have a higher interest rate than unsubsidized loans. They can be consolidated with other Direct Loans, allowing you to use a Direct Consolidation Loan to put everything together later, streamlining your payments.

While not especially common amount grad students, other federal aid options come from filling out the FAFSA:

  • TEACH Grant: If you’re in an eligible degree program at your school, you might qualify for up to $4,000 per school year to help you cover costs. However, you have to meet service requirements, including teaching in a high-need area.
  • Federal work-study: Graduate students are also eligible for work-study, which guarantees you a way to earn money from working during the academic year. That can allow you to cover some of your living expenses without borrowing as much.
  • Pell Grant: You might be eligible for a Pell Grant if you’re enrolled in a postbaccalaureate teacher certification program.

How Else Can I Pay for Graduate School?

Besides federal financial aid, there are other ways to get financial assistance as you pursue a professional or graduate degree. Ways to get more help include:

  • Assistantship or fellowship: These programs are offered through schools. You might be able to help a professor with research or teach classes. In return, you might get reduced (or even free) tuition plus a stipend.
  • Scholarship: Some schools offer need-based scholarships for graduate students. Check with your school’s financial aid office for more information about this possibility.
  • Private student loans: You can also cover graduate program costs with the help of private student loans through Juno. Private loans don’t come with the same forgiveness and repayment options you see with federal loans, but they can provide you with needed funding. Plus, in some cases, the interest rate on a private grad school loan is lower than what you’d get with a PLUS Loan.
  • Savings: Don’t forget about personal savings. If you have money saved up, even in an account like a 529, you can use it to help cover grad school costs. Carefully consider your situation and whether it makes sense to dip into your savings to help you pay for your graduate degree.
  • Attend part time: You won’t be eligible for as much student aid, but you might be better able to afford the cost if you attend school part time. Not every graduate program allows it, though, so check with the school to see if part-time attendance is an option.

Should I Take Out a Loan for Graduate School if I Already Have Student Loan Debt?

In any situation, you should first look for ways to pay for school without taking on more student debt. However, if you feel that grad school is an important way for you to advance your career and improve your income, it can make sense to borrow more.

The loan amount you can get from the federal government can be seen on your student aid report, and you can see what other aid programs you’re eligible for. If needed, you can use a combination of loans and other aid to put together a plan to cover your costs.

Later, you might be able to refinance your grad school loans at a lower rate. However, before you refinance federal student loans, you need to make sure it’s the right move for you. Private student loans aren’t eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness or other federal forgiveness programs.

Bottom Line

While undergraduate students have access to more financial aid options, there are still ways for grad students to get financial assistance when paying for school. Fill out the FAFSA and check to see what you can receive in terms of help as you use a grad program to advance your career.

Miranda Marquit

Written By

Miranda Marquit

Miranda has 10+ years of experience covering financial markets for various online and offline publications, including contributions to Marketwatch, NPR, Forbes, FOX Business, Yahoo Finance, and The Hill. She is the co-host of the Money Tree Investing podcast and she has a Master of Arts in Journalism from Syracuse University


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