Financing Graduate School 101

financial aid 101

Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to grad school. Now comes the tricky part: PAYING FOR IT.

Check out our 101 on Financing Grad School.

Scholarships, Grants, and Fellowships. These terms are often used interchangeably, but there are some slight differences:


Refers to any sum of money offered in exchange for an academic purpose or project. Generally, grants are awarded on the basis of financial need, but they often require a minimum level of academic performance.


Usually apply to undergraduate education. They can be awarded based on many things including merit, field of study, and/or an applicant’s particular identity group.


Support graduate or post-graduate projects pursued outside the normal curriculum. They help student’s access academic opportunities they might not otherwise be able to afford.

Keep in mind, scholarships, grants, and fellowships are not automatically awarded. It is your responsibility as the applicant to make yourself aware of the process and requirements for any financial awards you are pursing. Avoid careless errors by paying close attention to the following information on any financial aid application:

Date: If you’re pursuing a financial award, start the process as soon as possible. Missing an application deadline will automatically disqualify you.

Duration: Don’t forget to find out whether this is a one-time award or whether it continues throughout your education. In some cases you may need to reapply each year.

Standards: Is the award capped at a certain amount? Do you need to maintain a certain GPA in order to continue to qualify?

Scams: Unfortunately, online scams exist. Researching awards via your school of choice, or via a reputable site such as, will help you avoid most shady situations.

Teaching or Research Assistantship

Teaching and research assistantships are generally posted by the hiring department on the school’s website. TA may teach and lead discussion sections, while RAs conduct research for a professor. Besides providing a paycheck, these positions may be great opportunities for making connections and building your resume. If you’re seriously interested in obtaining a teaching or research assistantship, be sure to express your interest to the professor for whom you’d be working.

Federal Work Study

The Federal Work-Study program allows you to work part-time on campus. It’s sponsored in part by the federal government, who pays a portion of your salary, and administered by the Financial Aid department at each campus. The amount you can make is determined by the amount of your award, and your hourly wage is never less than the national minimum wage. It’s important to apply for federal student aid as early as possible. Check with your school for information about deadlines.

Perkins Loans

Perkins loans are need-based loans funded by the federal government. The financial aid office at your college or university is responsible for determining the amount you receive, and the loan itself is repaid to your school. Perkins loans carry lower interest than Stafford loans, and if you default on a Perkins loan you are not subject to wage garnishing. You can apply for a Perkins loan by completing a FAFSA.

Stafford Loans

Stafford loans are available to graduate students who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, haven't defaulted on other federal student loans, and attend school at least half time. Stafford loans carry a fixed annual percentage rate: the size of your payment won't increase if interest rates rise. Through income-based repayment, Stafford borrowers can ask to have their payments capped at 15 percent of their disposable income.

PLUS Loans

The maximum amount of PLUS loans you can receive equals your total expenses during graduate school, including living costs, minus any financial assistance you’re already receiving, such as Stafford loans. To apply, complete a Direct PLUS loan application and a master promissory note.

Private Loans

Federal loans often won’t cover the entire cost of your education, and private loans exist to fill in the gaps. They also offer more flexible repayment options. For example, you can defer repayment while in school. However, interest will still accrue, and will be added to the principal upon graduation. While federal loans offer fixed rates, the rates on private loans are variable. Only those with a good credit score are likely to be eligible for private loans. Applying with a cosigner can help your chances. The process of application differs between lending entities. 

Data according to :


by Stephanie Small

Find Schools