Tips for getting graduate school financial aid
- Submitting the FAFSA is free. If you’re asked to pay for it, you’re on the wrong website.
- Don’t lose out on money for graduate school by missing the FAFSA deadline. Federal financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so apply as early as you can to maximize your aid. Applications are accepted beginning October 1 for the following academic year.
- Financial aid is need-based, but even if you think you won’t qualify, submit the FAFSA anyway. You risk losing out on potential aid if you don’t.
- For an estimate of how much graduate school financial aid you may be eligible for, check out the Office of Federal Student Aid’s free calculator.
How to evaluate your financial aid offer
After you submit your FAFSA, you’ll receive your financial aid offers from every school to which you’ve been accepted. Financial aid offers may not look alike, but they contain the same information: the cost of attendance and the amount of financial aid you’re eligible for from all sources.
The graduate schools to which you were accepted develop your financial aid offers by starting with the information you gave on your FAFSA. Then they factor in elements like the school’s estimated cost of attendance (COA) and your financial situation.
When it’s time for you to evaluate your graduate school financial aid offers, be sure to separate the "free" money that you don’t have to pay back—scholarships, grants, and fellowships—from federal loans, which you’ll have to pay back with interest.
Cost of attendance and financial aid
Cost of Attendance (COA) is an estimate of how much a year of graduate school will cost. If you're attending at least half time, it can include things like tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation and personal expenses.footnote 2 It's one of several factors the school uses to determine how much financial aid you are eligible to receive.
Compare your financial aid offers