Financial Aid Tips: Completing the FAFSA for Graduate School

by Ashley Eneriz

Applying to graduate school can be an exciting time. You’ve worked to obtain letters of recommendation and satisfy the school’s admission requirements, so now it’s time to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Of all the actions you’ve taken to prepare yourself and your application, this is one of the most important!

The FAFSA isn’t just for undergraduate students—it’s also an important key to securing aid for a graduate degree. While the process may seem confusing, you can take advantage of financial aid tips to strengthen your chances of receiving funding.

For instance, graduate students are considered independent students, even if they’re under 24. This makes filing easier because you won’t have to worry about adding anyone’s tax information but your own. Here’s what else you should know about funding your grad school degree.

Types of Financial Aid for Graduate School

While grad students aren’t usually eligible for grants (with the exception of some who are pursuing a teaching credential), there are still options to help pay for your tuition. Loans need to be repaid after the grace period—typically six months after graduation.

These are the federal loans available to you through FAFSA:

  • Direct Loans: These federal loans are for eligible graduate students who need assistance paying for tuition and related expenses. The Direct Unsubsidized Loan is a fixed-rate loan that is not based on financial need, so income does not impact a student’s ability to obtain and borrow this loan.
  • Direct PLUS Loans: These federal loans are also available to graduate students. PLUS loans are popular because they can also help pay for expenses that aren’t covered by other financial aid options, like textbooks. Though they aren’t based on financial need, they do require a credit check.

Additionally, schools offer their own scholarships and fellowships after students fill out the FAFSA. The types of scholarships and funds vary based on the degree program. Accordingly, it’s important to figure out what you’re eligible for, and completing the FAFSA may help ensure that you are considered for any available institutional aid.

Financial Aid Tips for First-Time FAFSA Filers

Mae Gill, associate director of Graduate and Professional Student Financial Services at Azusa Pacific University, has guided many students through the FAFSA process and leads a team of student account specialists at APU who answer FAFSA questions every day. One of the most important things to remember when you go to complete the FAFSA, Gill says, is to “be prepared to upload or link to your appropriate tax information.” For example, a student filing a 2020-21 FAFSA will be asked for their 2018 tax return information.

Here are a few more tips from Gill:

  • FAFSA offers a Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). This allows the student to export tax information directly from the IRS, which is a great time saver.
  • Grad students can select up to ten schools to receive their FAFSA. So even if you haven’t made your final school decision, you can submit the FAFSA.
  • Some APU programs have minimum unit requirements for aid. For example, all APU seminary students must be enrolled in four units per semester, while teaching credential programs require six units. To know the minimum unit requirement for your program, speak with your student account specialist.
  • Fill out the FAFSA early. Apply as soon as you begin applying for grad school so that you can connect early with Student Financial Services.
  • APU-specific financial aid is also available. Alongside government financial aid, APU offers program-specific scholarships and fellowships.
  • For most grad students, filling out the FAFSA will take 30 minutes or less. Even if you’re unsure whether you qualify for aid or whether you want to take out a loan, apply just in case!

Now that you know financial aid is possible for grad students, find a program that will boost your career. With many master’s, credential, and doctoral programs, you can earn an advanced degree—on your schedule—at Azusa Pacific University.