While many college students become accustomed to the process of submitting their FAFSA and applying for financial aid as an undergraduate, applying for aid for grad school comes with its own set of rules and requirements.
In the hopes of demystifying the process for incoming grad students, the experts at ScholarSwag are offering up aid tips for graduate students as well as breaking down the key differences between the two processes.
The process of securing financial aid will surely differ between undergraduate and graduate years, particularly in these five major ways:
- There will be changes in how you complete your FAFSA: Unlike most undergraduates, grad students will not be reporting their parents’ income on their FAFSA. Upon graduate standing, students are automatically declared independent and only required to submit their personal tax return. Consequently, these graduate students should receive their award letters back quicker, which will allow them more time to plan.
- Your school’s financial aid office will be less involved: In contrast to undergraduate financial aid, FastWeb pointed out graduate aid is decentralized. Essentially this means that while undergraduate students receive funding from a single financial aid department that services the entire university, funding for graduate students typically comes from the graduate department associated with a given field of study.
- Need has little to do with it: Unfortunately for graduate students, fewer need-based opportunities exist for them than their undergraduate successors – particularly on a federal level. As noted by U.S. News & World Report, Federal Pell Grants, for example, are not available to grad students. However, need-based loans are an option for both types of students.
- Credit scores can come into play: According to the Federal Student Aid website, credit checks may be required for certain forms of financial aid. In particular, the Direct PLUS loan program carries out a credit check at the graduate level.
- Higher borrowing limits on loans may be in sight: Though grad students are typically able to take out higher loan amounts than undergraduates, U.S. News & World Report stated those higher limits will come with similar or even higher interest rates. Even if you’re entering a rather lucrative job market, it’s important to keep in mind that all borrowed money needs to be paid back with interest, including any loans that have been deferred from your undergraduate studies.
Tips and tricks for getting more financial aid
Regardless of whether the points mentioned above work out in your favor, there are plenty of avenues available to graduate students who are willing to put in the effort to find additional sources of financial aid. The following are four examples of such opportunities:
- Search for specialized opportunities: It’s certainly worth noting there are graduate-specific scholarships, grants and loans available for the taking.
- Reel in a research contract: According to FastWeb, individual faculty members may extend research contracts, particularly to those students in the math and science fields.
- Take advantage of teaching assistantships: FastWeb also noted opportunities exist in the form of teaching assistantships, where the grad student might perform duties such as teaching a class, grading papers or offering additional tutoring sessions outside the classroom.
- Seek opportunities throughout the year: It’s imperative for graduate students to continue searching for financial aid even after the academic year has begun. U.S. News & World Report stated the best time to ask about additional funding is right before final exams. You should be able to consult your school’s financial aid office or graduate department about additional opportunities.
For more information on financial aid and college planning, please visit ScholarSwag‘s website!