FAFSA for Grad School: Explained

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September 21, 2023 6 min read Liaison

If you're looking for financial aid options and considering filling out the FAFSA to help pay for grad school, here you'll find all the essential information you need.

Key Takeaways

As a graduate student, you may apply for work-study jobs, grants and scholarships, and federal student loans with the FAFSA.

Unlike undergraduates, grad students can apply only for Direct Unsubsidized and Direct PLUS loans.

The FAFSA application timeline is from October 1 until July 30, and it's best to apply as soon as possible.

You must submit the FAFSA every year because your financial situation can change.

After you receive your FSA ID, you should double-check your information and apply for financial aid.


According to a report released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 2023, 74% of graduate students received some form of financial aid during the 2019-2020 academic year. If you're looking to find out more about FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) for grad school, you're in the right place.

Some graduate students need help with their tuition and related costs, while others need help with their entire range of educational expenses. As a graduate student, you can look for grants and scholarships, work-study jobs, and federal student loans.

In this article, we talk about FAFSA for graduate students, available financial aid options, what information you need to submit, what the process of applying for the FAFSA looks like, how it differs from undergrad FAFSA submissions, and other essential information.

FAFSA for Grad School Explained

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FAFSA for Grad School: Everything You Need to Know

In the following sections, we talk about what FAFSA is, eligibility requirements, available aid options you can apply for, and the differences between using FAFSA to apply for financial aid in undergraduate and graduate school.

What Is FAFSA for Graduate School?

If you need financial aid for grad school tuition, you must complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) before you can apply for grants, work-study jobs, and federal student loans.

Schools and states check the information you entered in the form to evaluate your eligibility for financial aid.

You can fill out the FAFSA for the upcoming academic year between October 1 and July 30. It's best to submit the FAFSA as soon as you can, however, as financial aid is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Each year, you must submit your FAFSA to qualify for federal student aid. The renewal of the FAFSA isn't automatic; your FAFSA status is valid only for one year because your financial details could change within a year.

Different Financial Aid Options with FAFSA

As a graduate student who is filling out a FAFSA for a master’s degree or a doctoral degree, you can apply for three financial aid options:

  • Federal student loans — There are Direct Unsubsidized and Direct PLUS loans, for which eligibility isn't based on financial need. With the latter, you can pay for the expenses you didn't manage to pay with other financial aid options. Federal student loans generally have better interest rates and repayment options than those offered by private lenders.
  • Grants — You may be eligible for local, state, or federal grants. This form of financial aid usually doesn’t have to be repaid as long as the conditions are met.
  • Work-study jobs — These part-time jobs, in which students usually work as researchers or assistants, can also help you with grad school expenses.

What Are the Eligibility Requirements for Federal Aid?

There are several requirements you need to meet in order to be eligible for federal student aid.

You need to:

  • prove the need for financial aid
  • be a citizen of the United States or an eligible non-citizen
  • provide a valid Social Security number
  • be enrolled as a regular student or be accepted for enrollment
  • keep your academic progress on a satisfactory level
  • sign a statement that you're not in default on a federal student loan and that you don't owe money on a federal grant
  • sign a statement that you'll use federal aid for education

What Happens After Submitting the FAFSA?

Before you submit your FAFSA information, confirm that you’ve answered all the questions correctly, make any corrections if necessary, and determine whether you want more schools to receive the application.

Once you complete the FAFSA online, you can expect it to be processed in three to five days.

You'll be able to see your application status right after submitting your information. If you send the paper application, you can expect it to be processed within seven to ten days.

If you provide a valid email address, you'll get a link to your Student Aid Report (SAR).

After you complete the FAFSA, you can apply for scholarships and other financial aid options.

FAFSA for Grad School vs. Undergraduate School

When applying for financial aid as a graduate student, you need to enter some of the same information as undergraduate students, including:

  • Your Federal Student Aid ID
  • Social Security number
  • Balances on accounts
  • Details about your investment accounts
  • Federal income tax returns
  • Untaxed income records

How does FAFSA work for grad school? Here’s how it differs from the undergraduate FAFSA process.

  • Dependency status — Graduate students are perceived as independent and need to enter only their own income and assets. Undergrad students need to fill in the incomes and assets of their parents.
  • Number of aid options — Graduate students have fewer financial aid options.
  • Limits — While undergraduate student loans have a borrowing limit, graduate PLUS loans have no limit. However, graduate unsubsidized loans do have a limit.

How to Fill Out FAFSA for Grad School?

Here are the steps for filling out the FAFSA:

  • Create an FSA ID — When you create an account at studentaid.gov, your FSA ID will be automatically generated. The FSA ID is used for logging into your account.
  • Fill out the FAFSA You must enter your full name, birth date, home address, and phone number. Also, you need to enter your Social Security number, driver's license number, and records of your financial account balances.
  • Enter the names of schools you want to attend — You can add a maximum of ten schools you want to apply to. When you accept an offer of admission to a grad school, the other schools will no longer consider your application.
  • Enter financial information — You need to list your income and assets; if you're married, you must also include your spouse's financial information.
  • Submit your application after you double-check all entered information.

FAFSA for Grad School — Conclusion

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form you need to submit if you're looking for financial aid. As a graduate student, you can look for work-study jobs, grants, scholarships, and federal student loans — Direct Unsubsidized and Direct PLUS loans.

You can send your form from October 1 until July 30, but it's usually best to send it as early as you can. Note that you need to submit the FAFSA each year because your financial situation can change.

To be eligible for financial aid, you usually need to demonstrate financial need, but your credit history may also be evaluated. You also need to be a US citizen or an eligible noncitizen, as well as have a satisfactory academic record, among other things.

After submitting the FAFSA online, processing typically takes three to five days; paper applications take slightly longer — up to ten days. The Student Aid Report (SAR) will be sent to your email, allowing you to review and update your information.

Go over the requirements, carefully enter your information, and then choose the financial aid option you need.


Yes, graduate students can use the FAFSA to apply for financial aid. Unlike undergraduate students, who need to provide parents' information, grad students are perceived as independent and do not need to list parental income and assets. If you’re married, you’ll need to provide your spouse's financial information in addition to your own.

Yes, the FAFSA can be used to apply for aid to cover graduate school expenses. There are federal student loans (Direct Unsubsidized and Direct PLUS loans), grants, and work-study jobs. Direct PLUS loans don't have a limit and can potentially cover all your expenses.

You can fill out the FAFSA form from October 1 until July 30. It's best to submit it as soon as you can.

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