Already have a college degree? Deciding to go to graduate school? Not sure what financial aid options are for graduate school? Find out what financial aid options are available specifically for students wanting to get a graduate degree.

What are Financial Aid Options for Graduate School?

There is graduate school aid available from schools, the federal government, state agencies, and private companies and individuals. The three main types of aid are loans, fellowships, and assistantships.


Loans are aid to help with graduate school costs that must be repaid. Loans reportedly make up 54% of financial aid. Loans may be need-based or not need based. Need-based loans tend to have a lower interest rate. Some loans do not accrue interest until after graduation. Graduate school loans are based on the student's situation and made to the student. 

  • Perkins Loans

The Federal Perkins Loan is a low-interest loan for students who have financial need. There is no loan fee. There is a grace period, and repayment begins either nine months after you graduate or leave school or when you go below half-time status. 

  • Direct Loans and FFEL Program

Direct loans are also known as the Wiliam D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. FFEL is the Federal Family Education Loan Program. Each set of loans includes the Stafford Loans for students and the PLUS Loans for graduate students, but the Direct loans goes directly from the Federal Government to the school, whereas the FFEL funds go through private lenders, for example, banks and credit unions. Thus, with Direct loans, there is no need to seek out a lender.

Schools may participate in one or both programs, but students cannot receive both kinds of loans for the same enrollment period. The loan fee is deducted from each disbursement. 

  • Subsidized Stafford or Direct Loans

Subsidized loans are based on financial need and have a built in grace period before repayment, during which interest is not charged. This is what is referred to be the loan being “subsidized.” Unlike Federal Perkins Loans, the interest rates of Direct and FFEL Stafford loans are variable. 

  • Unsubsidized Stafford or Direct Loans

Unsubsidized loans are not based on need. The interest is charged from the time the loan is disbursed, and it is capitalized if it accrues, that is, added to the principal. 

  • Federal PLUS loans

In a new development, PLUS loans are now available to graduate and professional students who meet enrollment requirements. (PLUS loans were previously only available to parents of dependent undergraduates.) PLUS loans have a fixed interest rate. It is usually advantageous to choose the PLUS loan over a private loan when possible.

There are also private loans, school-sponsored loans, and other loans offered by private organizations and foundations.


Fellowships are essentially the graduate school version of scholarships and grants. Fellowships are monetary awards for which you may have to do nothing more than maintain a certain grade-point average, although some have requirements. Fellowships are offered by schools and many other organizations and vary widely in their aims. College and university career offices and websites may detail their available fellowships, state higher education agencies, and Internet searches are good ways to discover them.


Working as a graduate student is one of the important ways that aid is given. When the work is done for a department, it is often essentially on-the-job training. An assistantship may also include a tuition remission, a stipend, and/or housing benefits. They typically involve 15-20 hours per week or work, and depending on the type of assistantship, it may be offered for a single year or for the entire course of your graduate work. 

  • Teaching Assistantships

Teaching Assistants or TAs are of particular importance at large schools and in courses that must be taken by many or all undergraduates. A TA job involves assisting in one or more courses and can include: teaching a section, running discussion groups, supervising labs, grading homework and tests. 

  • Research Assistantships

Research Assistants (RAs) assist with faculty research. Openings are most often found in the science and social science disciplines, but may also occur in the humanities. Research may include field work, lab work, or library research, as well as related tasks. 

  • Resident Assistants

Resident Assistants (also RAs) assist in running a residence hall for undergraduates, often in exchange for a free (and sometimes nicer-than-average) room. This job often includes welcoming students, planning activities, supervising, and counseling.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

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