Filing the FAFSA for Graduate School
There’s so much that has been said and written about funding an undergraduate education, that graduate students can sometimes feel left out of the student loan conversation. Getting student loans to finance your graduate degree can be challenging, but it all starts with the same old FAFSA – and even that is a bit different. We have put together a primer on what you need to know about filing the FAFSA for graduate school.
Filing the FAFSA for Graduate School vs. Filing the FAFSA for Undergraduate School
Although there are distinctions (some of them quite significant) for to-be graduate students who want to file the FAFSA, the basics of the FAFSA remain unchanged from undergraduates to graduates:
- The FAFSA calculates how much the student (and his or her family) can be expected to contribute to the cost of tuition.
- The FAFSA is automatically sent to the school (or schools) of choice.
- Sources of school, state, federal, and/or private financial aid will all look at the applicant’s FAFSA in determining the disbursement of student loans.
What is key for graduate students to know about filling out the FAFSA is that the FAFSA considers them “independent students” – that is, financial information about your parents is not necessary. This is because graduate students tend to be older than undergraduate students, and thus have incomes of their own.
In lieu of parental financial information, the focus shifts to spouses (since a graduate student is more likely to be married than an undergraduate student). Any income and assets belonging to the applicant’s spouse must be declared on the FAFSA.
If you are planning on enrolling in graduate school and want to file a FAFSA, you will be required to produce more information than if you were filing as an undergraduate student. Some of these items of information unique to graduate students might be:
- W-2 forms, or income statements and records earned in the prior tax year
- Federal income tax returns for the applicant (and spouse, if applicable)
- Bank statements and documentation of assets, stocks, bonds, and investments
Need-Based Financial Aid for Graduate Students and the FAFSA
Probably the biggest difference between the undergraduate and graduate versions of the FAFSA is that need-based grants do not exist for graduate students. While graduate students can still qualify for loans ($20,500 in federal Stafford loans), these monies must be repaid. The harsh reality is echoed by U.S. News & World Report; while encouraging graduate students to fill out the FAFSA (“the single most important financial aid application”), they advise that “very little financial aid is awarded to graduate students based solely on financial need.”
Notwithstanding the limited financial aid resources open to graduate students, US News points out that by filing a timely and accurate FAFSA, applicants keep open the possibility of securing private student loans.
Pell Grants for Graduate Students
One option for funding available to graduate students is the Pell Grant. The Pell Grant is normally available only to undergraduate students who do not already have a bachelor’s degree. However, graduate students may apply for a Pell Grant if their program culminates in a teaching certificate or a license.
So, if you are a graduate student enrolled in a program that awards teaching certifications at the end of the program, and your FAFSA is up to date and accurate, you may be eligible for a Pell Grant.
Filing the FAFSA for Graduate School
Graduate school is difficult enough without the issue of limited financial aid resources to cloud things even further, but it is possible to get help to fund the next chapter of your higher education – and it all starts with the FAFSA.
- Demystifying the FAFSA
- Exit Counseling
- Filling It Out
- How the FAFSA Challenged Us to Find Alternative Funding
- Independent or Dependent Student Status?
- Making Corrections
- Reality Check
- Revising: A Primer for Parents
- The Calculations Behind the Application
- To-Do Lists, Anxiety, and Preparing for College
- What Happens Next?
- Why Submit the FAFSA