Specialty graduate programs
The 1-2-3 approach to paying for graduate school still applies for medical, dental, law, and other professional degree programs. You can, however, focus your research on scholarships, fellowships, and loans specifically designed for your professional training.
If your graduate program is a specialty that isn’t listed above, you can reach out to school department heads to learn more about the scholarships, fellowships, and loans best suited to your program.
1. Start with money you don’t have to pay back
You can use savings to help pay for graduate school. If you do, you’ll want to make sure you can still pay your monthly bills as well as have some money set aside for any unplanned expenses. Create a budget to understand what your regular monthly expenses look like (e.g., rent or mortgage, phone bills, car payments, etc.). You can also talk to a financial advisor if you have questions.
24% of school costs are paid by grad students' earnings.
Graduate school-based fellowships, assistantships, and scholarships
Many schools offer fellowships, assistantships, grants, and scholarships for their graduate students. Grants are usually need-based while scholarships may be need- or merit-based. Graduate fellowships and assistantships are generally merit-based, so if you graduated from college with a high GPA, you may qualify for one.
Assistantships for graduate students can be research-based (RA) or teaching-based (TA). Both roles may include tuition remission, which means the school will pay for you to attend. They also may give you a living stipend to help pay for food and rent. In exchange, graduate students generally work 15 – 20 hours for a professor on campus, either assisting with research or helping teach a course. You may also have the option to work as a graduate resident assistant (GRA). This role may offer you free room and board on campus and a stipend, which will cut down on your living costs. In return, you work part-time in an on-campus residence hall, usually with undergraduates.
Graduate fellowships are like assistantships, but don’t require you to work on campus for a set number of hours. A fellowship may include tuition remission and/or a living stipend.
Schools offer different graduate assistantship, scholarship, and fellowship programs with different ways to apply. You may need to fill out a separate application or complete an essay to qualify. Check the websites of the schools you’re applying to or talk to their department heads to find out more.
Other fellowships and scholarships
Depending on your area, you may be eligible for graduate fellowships, grants, and scholarships that aren’t associated with your school (sometimes called “outside” scholarships or fellowships on college websites).
Professional associations related to your field also may offer grants and scholarships to graduate students, or have the resources to help you find them. For example, the American Economic Association offers information on funding for professionals and students. You can search for more graduate school scholarships for free using our Scholarship Search tool.
Ask department heads for more information on what fellowships, scholarships, and grants have helped previous graduate students.
Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These loans (sometimes referred to as “Stafford Loans”) have a fixed-interest rate and are unsubsidized, which means you’re responsible for paying all the interest on these loans.
Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loans: Direct Graduate PLUS Loans are credit-based and have a higher fixed-interest rate than Federal Direct Loans.
School-funded aid: Your school may offer additional financial aid, including Federal Work-Study positions that enable students to work on campus part-time to help pay for living expenses. The type of aid available will vary, and you may need to apply for it separately. Check with your school’s financial aid office to learn more.
State aid: You may also get state assistance. When you fill out your FAFSA application, you’ll get more information on whether graduate student aid is available in your state. You can also check your state’s website for opportunities.
Almost everyone who applies for financial aid is eligible for some form of aid. File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to see how much you qualify for. Embark makes it easy with a simplified process and step-by-step guidance—plus it’s free.
Private student loans for graduate school are available through banks and credit unions. These loans are credit-based, so the better your credit, the better your chance of being approved. Many private loans offer both fixed and variable interest rates.
As with federal student loans, you’ll have to pay back the money you borrowed, plus interest. Graduate student loans offer a few options for how repayment can work. For example, the Sallie Mae® Graduate School Loan gives you the option of making in-school payments or deferring until after you leave school. Borrowers may save 17% on their total loan cost by choosing the interest repayment option instead of the deferred repayment option.
Deferring undergraduate student loans
If you have private or federal student loans from your undergraduate degree, you may be able to defer them while you’re in graduate school. Contact your loan servicer to find out what options you have. Be aware that although you won’t have to make monthly payments on your undergraduate loans while you’re studying, the loans will likely still be accruing interest.
How to borrow responsibly
Borrowing is often a necessary part of getting the education you need to start or further your career. But it’s important to borrow responsibly so you can pay back your loans on time after you earn your degree. Limit your borrowing to the amount you’ll need for the cost of tuition and related expenses. Evaluate what your anticipated monthly loan payments might be versus how much you expect to earn in your post-school career. You can research your potential salary through professional associations and the U.S. Department of Labor, which lists the median pay for many fields.
Use our Graduate School Scholarship Search to get custom scholarship matches based on your field of study, interests, and skills. Register today and get free access to $1 billion in graduate scholarships.
See which loans are available for graduate students, including federal student loans and private graduate student loans.
Explore federal loans and compare to ensure you understand the terms and features. Sallie Mae loans that have variable rates can go up over the life of the loan. Federal student loans are required by law to provide a range of flexible repayment options, including, but not limited to, income-based repayment and income-contingent repayment plans, and loan forgiveness and deferment benefits, which other student loans are not required to provide. Federal loans generally have origination fees, but are available to students regardless of income.
Interest is charged throughout the life of the loan—beginning with disbursement, during school, through any grace/separation period, and ending when the loan is paid in full. With the Fixed and Deferred Repayment Options, the interest rate is higher than with the Interest Repayment Option and Unpaid Interest is added to the loan’s Current Principal at the end of the grace/separation period. Payments may be required during the grace/separation period depending on the repayment option selected. Variable rates may increase over the life of the loan.
Savings based on a typical loan to a first-year graduate student.
Sallie Mae does not provide, and these materials are not meant to convey, financial, tax, or legal advice. Consult your own financial advisor, tax advisor, or attorney about your specific circumstances.
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This completion service is not affiliated with or endorsed by the US Department of Education. The FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form is available for free at studentaid.gov.