Financial Aid Guide for Graduate Students

Looking for financial aid for graduate school? Check out this post for scholarships and other financial aid options.
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Updated on July 31, 2023
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Editor's Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about financial issues.

  • Graduate students should fill out the FAFSA, like they did as undergraduates.
  • Scholarships, grants, fellowships, tuition reimbursement, and student loans are options.
  • Before borrowing money for school, be sure to apply for other types of financial aid.
  • Some fellowships cover the cost of tuition and provide a stipend for living expenses.

In 2022, 58% of students with graduate-degrees took on debt to complete their programs. Some students have so much student loan debt that their balances keep rising — even as they make income-based minimum payments.

You can reduce the loans you'll need by applying for financial aid. You don't need to repay graduate school scholarships, grants, assistantships, and fellowships, so apply for as many scholarships as you can. This will help minimize the amount of student loan debt you may have to take on.

Can I Get Financial Aid for Graduate School?

Yes, you can get financial aid for graduate school. Many scholarships, assistantships, and fellowships are available for graduate students.

To apply for financial aid for graduate school, you need to fill out the FAFSA. Although Pell Grants are not available to graduate students, the FAFSA is used to apply for many other types of aid, such as federal work-study, scholarships through the university, and federal graduate student loans.

Graduate students are considered independent for the FAFSA, so you don't need information from your parents to fill out the form. This makes it quicker and easier to file.

Expect to provide information from your tax returns, bank accounts, and other financial documents when filling out the FAFSA.

What Kind of Graduate School Financial Aid Is Available?

There are many types of financial aid for graduate students, including scholarships, grants, assistantships, fellowships, tuition reimbursement, federal student loans, and private student loans. Start by looking for grad school scholarships and fellowships you don't have to repay before considering student loans for graduate school.

Here are the main types of financial assistance available to graduate students:

Scholarships | Grants | Fellowships and Assistantships | Tuition Reimbursement
Federal Student Loans | Private Student Loans


Most scholarshipsconsider merit, not financial need. You can use some scholarships to cover supplies and living expenses. Others must be applied to tuition.

Many organizations such as Fastweb, Cappex, and list scholarships for graduate students. You can apply for as many scholarships as you want. Individual schools offer scholarships, as do companies and organizations. Scholarships corporations offer may be limited to employees or children of employees.

However, that's not always the case. Unlike student loans, you don't need to repay scholarships.


Grants are typically need-based and normally do not need to be repaid. However, if you withdraw from school or fail to meet the grant's requirements, you may have to repay it. For example, if you get a TEACH Grant and fail to complete the service obligation, the grant converts to a loan that you must repay.

Grants can come from the state or federal government, your school, or an organization. Usually, there must be a gap between the cost of school and the amount you're financially able to pay. Students can find grants on sites such as Fastweb.

Popular Grants for Graduate Students

Fellowships and Assistantships

A fellowship is a special type of grant that's typically offered only to graduate students. Often, there is a service requirement attached to the fellowship. For example, the fellowship recipient may be required to teach classes or conduct a specific research project.

Assistantships are similar, although they almost always require the recipient to carry out specific work tasks like research and teaching. Your graduate school will usually offer assistantships, while schools and external organizations can offer fellowships.

Fellowships and assistantships can cover tuition, books, and supplies. You don't need to repay them. Some come with a stipend to help cover living expenses — and it can be quite large. For instance, the DOE NNSA Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship comes with a yearly $36,000 stipend.

Popular Fellowships for Graduate Students

  • Dolores Zohrab Liebmann Fund: This fund provides fellowships to students with financial need who have an outstanding undergraduate record and who attend a designated institution. The fellowship covers tuition and provides an $18,000 stipend.
  • Humane Studies Fellowship: This fellowship offers awards of up to $15,000 per year to fellows conducting research in the social sciences and humanities.
  • Ford Foundation Fellowship: The Ford Foundation awards predoctoral, postdoctoral, and dissertation fellowships through a national competition run by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
  • Ruth D. Peterson Fellowship for Racial and Ethnic Diversity: Applicants must come from racial and ethnic groups that are underrepresented in the field of criminology or criminal justice. Three $6,000 fellowships are awarded annually.

Tuition Reimbursement

Many large employers offer tuition reimbursement as a benefit. In these programs, employees pay their own tuition and complete the course. Then, the company reimburses the cost.

Some employers require their employees to enroll in a degree program related to the work they do for the company to qualify for reimbursement. Others will reimburse tuition in any degree field.

Employers often require employees to pass with a certain minimum grade to be eligible for tuition reimbursement. You might have to repay tuition reimbursement if you leave the company within a certain length of time after receiving reimbursement.

Popular employers that offer tuition reimbursement include Amazon, Apple, Ford Motors, and GEICO.

Federal Student Loans

Graduate students should first attempt to find forms of financial aid that don't need to be repaid. If you still need additional funds, you may want to apply for federal student loans. Avoid taking out more student loans than you need, since many graduates struggle to repay them.

Students should opt for federal student loans over private student loans, if possible. Federal student loans usually have lower interest rates and you don't need to make payments while enrolled in school.

The interest rate for unsubsidized federal student loans is 7.05% for graduate students for the 2023-2024 school year, according to the Federal Student Aid office.

Private Student Loans

Graduate students who need funds for college should consider private student loans only after exhausting all other options. Private student loans originate through a credit union, bank, or online lender rather than through the federal government. They usually have higher interest rates than federal student loans.

Some lenders allow students to defer making payments on their private student loans while they're in school. The interest will accrue on a private student loan if a student does not make any payments while in school.

Banks consider salary and credit history when determining interest rates on private student loans. Students with a solid work and credit history and/or a U.S. co-signer may be offered lower interest rates.

Graduate students seeking private student loans should compare rates and other loan criteria among lenders to find the best deal.

Popular Private Loans for Graduate Students

  • Sallie Mae Graduate School Loan: This loan offers variable annual percentage rates (APR) from 6.62-16.22% and fixed rates from 4.99-14.48% APR. The loan has no origination fee and offers the best rates only to the most creditworthy applicants.
  • Ascent Cosigned Student Loan: Ascent allows you to see your interest rate without affecting your credit score. There are no application fees. You can apply to release your co-signer after 24 months of on-time payments.
  • College Ave Private Student Loan: College Ave offers graduate student loans with rates from 5.29-14.49% variable APR or 4.42-14.49% fixed APR including the autopay discount. College Ave offers a deferred payment option, but interest accrues while the payment is deferred.
  • SoFi Private Student Loans: SoFi's no-fee private student loans have no origination fees, no late fees, and no insufficient fund fees. Students also get a 0.25% discount when they set up autopay.

Frequently Asked Questions About Financial Aid for Graduate School

What's the difference between grants and fellowships?

A grant is typically awarded based on need and doesn't come with any strings attached. Fellowships (and assistantships), on the other hand, generally require grad students to teach classes, do research, or perform other tasks. In addition, fellowships are usually much larger than the typical grant, often including a stipend for living expenses.

Do graduate students qualify for the FAFSA?

Graduate students may qualify for many types of financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and fellowships. The FAFSA is required for many scholarships and grants. It is important for graduate students to file the FAFSA on time each year. This will ensure that your income information is on file when it is needed.

What is the maximum financial aid limit for graduate students?

There is no limit to the number of scholarships and grants you can apply for, though you should check with your school to see if it has any policies about applying scholarships to your account. There is a financial limit with federal student loans. This limit is $138,500 for graduate students, which includes loans received for undergraduate study.

Can graduate students receive Pell Grants?

Graduate students are not eligible to receive the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant is a need-based award for undergraduates with demonstrated financial need. Graduate students still should fill out the FAFSA since it is used to determine eligibility for other forms of aid besides the Pell Grant.

When should you apply for the FAFSA?

The deadline for filing the FAFSA is June 30. However, you should apply as soon as possible since some scholarships and grants have earlier deadlines. Many colleges and universities also maintain earlier deadlines. The earliest you can file is October 1 the year before you will be attending college.

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Mary Louis is a Brooklyn native who currently resides in Nashville, where she works at a state community college. She has worked in financial aid and recruitment as a registrar and bursar at city, state, for-profit, and Ivy League institutions, as well as at HBCUs. Louis's financial aid experience includes writing policies and procedures; overseeing satisfactory academic progress, state and federal aid, scholarships, private education lending, and federal verification; and assisting families with completing the FAFSA. Mary Louis is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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