Important Things to Know When Filing FAFSA for Grad School

The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is a standard application for students to access federally subsidized financial aid. You most likely received federal financial aid after filing the FAFSA as an undergraduate student. You can also access low-cost student loans, grants, and scholarships by filing the FAFSA for grad school. 

The process of filing the FAFSA for grad school is similar to that of undergrad school. There are a few differences though. Here are some of the important things you need to know when filing for the FAFSA. 

How Filing The FAFSA For Grad School Is Different 

Understanding the difference in filing the FAFSA for grad school vs. undergrad school will make it easier to navigate the process. 

The first difference between the two is your dependency status. Students applying to or enrolled in any post-secondary schooling or professional degree beyond a bachelor’s degree are considered independent for financial aid purposes. This means you only need to provide details about your own income and assets. You won’t need to provide your parents’ financial information. This is different from undergrad students who typically file as dependent and provide their family’s financial information. 

Another difference is in the aid options available. Grad students do not qualify for Direct subsidized loans. They are only eligible for Direct unsubsidized loans and grad PLUS loans. This means you will be responsible for all interest that accrues on your loan from the time the funds are disbursed. The federal government doesn’t pay off any of the interest. 

Pell grants are also unavailable to grad students, though other types of grant aid may be available. 

Grad School FAFSA Eligibility Criteria 

The FAFSA eligibility criteria for grad school are the same as the requirements for undergrad school: 

  • You must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen.
  • You must have a valid Social Security number.
  • You must be applying to or enrolled in an eligible degree program at an accredited university.
  • You must be able to demonstrate financial need for most programs.
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Types Of Student Aid Available To Graduate Students

You have fewer federal student aid options as a grad student. Some of these are based on demonstrated need while others aren’t. Your eligibility for the type and amount of student aid will be based on the information provided on your FAFSA.   

The types of federal need-base aid offered to grad students include: 

1. Federal Pell Grants

These are available for grad students in a postbaccalaureate teacher certification program. You don’t have to repay any Pell Grant amount that you’re awarded. 

2. TEACH Grants

Students pursuing a teaching career and enrolled in a graduate or postbaccalaureate program may qualify for TEACH grants. You must sign an agreement committing to teach in a high-need location for at least 4 academic years to receive this aid. The 4 teaching years must be within 8 years of leaving the program for which you received the grant. 

3. Federal Work-Study

The federal work-study program provides students with aid in the form of income earned through approved part-time employment. 

4. Federal Student Loans

Grad students qualify for two types of federal student loans – Direct unsubsidized loans and Direct PLUS loans. These are not based on financial need. Both types of loans have to be returned with interest that keeps accruing until they are completely paid off. Unsubsidized loans have lower interest rates but they have borrowing limits. PLUS loans have higher interest rates but there are no borrowing limits. You can borrow as much as you need to cover the entire cost of attendance minus any other financial aid.  

You may also qualify for merit or research-based assistance from your own graduate program or university. In addition, you can also apply for scholarships and grants offered by private and nonprofit organizations.

How To File The FAFSA For Grad School

The process of filing the FAFSA for grad school is similar to that of undergrad school. 

  • Create your FSA ID – This acts as your digital signature for the FAFSA. When you create an account at Studentaid.gov your FSA ID will get automatically generated. You’ll need these credentials to log into your account. 
  • Fill the FAFSA – Navigate to the FAFSA page and fill the application. You’ll need to enter your personal information – name, date of birth, address and phone number. Make sure to enter your full legal name as it appears on your Social Security card. You’ll also need to provide your Social Security number, driver’s license number and records of untaxed income. 
  • List all schools you’re considering – You can list up to 10 schools on the FAFSA. This includes schools that you haven’t applied to or haven’t received an acceptance letter from. Once you accept a school, all other schools will disregard your FAFSA application. 
  • Choose your dependency status – FAFSA typically classifies grad students as independent. This means, you don’t need to provide your family’s financial details. You need to provide details only about your income and your financial assets. If you’re married, you will have to include your spouse’s information in your application.  
  • Provide your financial information – The best and easiest way to do this is by using the IRS DRT (Data Retrieval Tool). With one click, this tool pulls your IRS tax information and transfers it to the FAFSA form. This ensures that the information provided is correct. If you haven’t completed your taxes for the year, you can submit income estimates temporarily. This must be updated as soon as you file your tax return.  
  • Submit your FAFSA form – Go through the application to make sure all information provided is correct, sign the application using your FSA ID, and click submit. 

Deadline For Filing The FAFSA For Grad School 

The FAFSA application period opens on October 1 for the next academic year. It closes on July 30 of the current year. Although it has a relatively long submission period, it’s advisable to submit your FAFSA as early as possible, preferably soon after October 1. Federal financial aid is distributed on a first-come-first-served basis. States and schools allot limited funds for the year and many run out of funds early. The earlier you apply, the higher your chances of getting the maximum financial aid you’re eligible for. 

Moreover, some states and schools have earlier deadlines. If you wait too late, you may miss the deadline of your state or school, losing out on the opportunity to get any financial aid at all.  

You Must File The FAFSA For Grad School Every Year 

Just like in undergrad school, you must file the FAFSA every year to qualify for federal financial aid for that year. Your FAFSA application is valid for one year only. It doesn’t renew automatically every year. This is because your financial details are used to determine your eligibility and this could change every year. If you forget to file the FAFSA, you won’t receive any federal or institutional aid for that year. To prevent this from happening, it’s advisable to make the deadline in your calendar and set a reminder. 

You can call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) if you have any questions or need help with filing the FAFSA. Alternatively, Studentaid.gov has all the general information you need for filing the FAFSA for grad school. 

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