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Guide to Graduate School FAFSA Filing

Guide to Graduate School FAFSA Filing
Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman

Updated June 16, 2022
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Graduate school students who need help covering tuition expenses may apply for financial assistance under the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as the FAFSA® form. Students must complete the FAFSA form every year to be considered for a federal student aid offer any given school year.FAFSA for grad school students is generally more simplified than FAFSA for undergraduate students. That’s because grad school students are generally independent students who don’t have to provide their parents’ information when submitting FAFSA graduate school documents.You can lose your FAFSA eligibility if you fail to maintain satisfactory academic progress toward a degree or certificate program, including master’s and doctorate programs. Below we highlight how FAFSA works at the graduate level.

A Refresher on What FAFSA Is

As mentioned earlier, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid is a form better known as FAFSA. Here’s a refresher on what FAFSA is:

How FAFSA Works

The way how FAFSA works is you complete and submit the FAFSA form to apply for federal student aid options, including federal grants and loans. Graduate school students may be eligible to receive federal student loans, federal grants, state aid, and school aid. 

Do You Have to File a FAFSA?

You must file a FAFSA form to be considered for needs-based financial aid, including Pell Grant eligibility. Eligible students have to submit a FAFSA form every school year to receive a federal student aid offer each academic year. You don’t have to file a FAFSA if you don’t want or need federal funding for college.

Average Amount of Aid from FAFSA

Average student loan debt from graduate school alone averages $78,118 as of 2021, according to the Education Data Initiative. FAFSA for grad school can give you as much money as you need to cover your tuition expenses in full. Eligible grad school students can receive up to $20,500 per year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans and have no limits on Direct PLUS Loan amounts.

Types of Financial Aid

Here are the financial aid options that may be available to grad school students:
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loans
  • Direct PLUS Loans
  • Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants
  • Federal Work-Study Program (FWS)
  • Federal Pell Grants
  • State Aid
  • School Aid

FAFSA Eligibility for Grad School

Most U.S. citizens or eligible noncitizens are eligible for financial aid for postsecondary education, according to Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education.Here are the basic requirements to qualify for federal student aid:
  • High school education or evidence proving your readiness for college
  • Must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen
  • Must generally possess a valid Social Security number
  • Must be an enrolled student or accepted for enrollment at a postsecondary institution
  • Must sign and submit the FAFSA form each school year
  • Must maintain satisfactory academic progress to maintain eligibility

Tips on Filling Out the FAFSA for Grad School

As mentioned earlier, eligible students have to complete the FAFSA form every school year to receive federal student aid each academic year. Grad school students generally don’t need to include parental information when filling out the FAFSA for graduate school. Consider the following FAFSA for grad school tips:
  • Be sure to apply by the federal, state, and college deadlines
  • Using your tax returns may help you answer key FAFSA questions 
  • You may file the FAFSA form online or via the myStudentAid mobile app

FAFSA Important Deadlines

Students may have to meet several FAFSA deadlines when applying for federal, state, and school aid. The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid or FSA office has a fixed deadline for FAFSA.Students who want federal aid for the 2022–23 school year must submit their applications to FSA by June 30, 2023. States and colleges may set their own FAFSA deadlines for the financial aid they offer, and their deadlines may be much earlier than the FSA deadline.The FAFSA form may have information concerning your state deadline. Several state deadlines have already passed for students who are eligible for state financial aid in the 2022–23 school year. You may contact your school’s financial aid office asking about its FAFSA deadline for college aid.

What Happens After Filing?

Students who submit the FAFSA form can expect to receive a Student Aid Report or SAR within three days to three weeks. The SAR lists personally identifiable information about yourself and may reveal whether you’re eligible for federal student aid, among other things.You’ll have a chance to review the SAR and make any necessary changes if you discover any mistakes. Correcting errors on your SAR may require you to update your FAFSA with the correct information.Some students who file a FAFSA form may get their application flagged for verification, which can potentially delay these students from receiving financial aid. A verification flag generally means you have to submit additional documentation to verify certain information in your FAFSA. Students who fail to complete the verification process when flagged can have their financial aid offers revoked permanently.

Other Ways to Pay for Graduate School

Below we highlight other ways you may pay for graduate school outside of federal, state, and school aid:

Graduate Student Loans

Banks and other financial institutions may offer graduate student loans to help you pay for grad school. The difference between private and federal student loans is that federal student loans are provided exclusively by the U.S. Department of Education. Banks, credit unions, online lenders, and select state-based or state-affiliated organizations may offer private student loans.

Graduate School Scholarships

Nonprofit and private organizations may offer graduate school scholarships to help students pay for grad school. Some organizations may award scholarships based upon academic merit. Colleges may also consider you for merit-based scholarships if you complete the FAFSA for grad school.

Refinancing Undergrad Loans

Refinancing undergrad loans in some cases may lower your monthly payment and save you money over the life of your loan. Minimizing the cost of your undergraduate loans may help you pay some of the costs of going to grad school. Borrowers may refinance federal student loans with a private lender. This will cause you to forfeit your federal student loan benefits.

Refinancing Student Loans

Graduate school student loans can be federal or private, and borrowers may refinance both. Refinancing federal student loans can allow borrowers to replace their existing federal loans with the terms and conditions of a private loan agreement. Private lenders can set their own underwriting standards, but some may require applicants to have steady income and good credit. For subprime borrowers, it might be difficult to refinance student loans with bad credit.To refinance your student loans, you may submit a student loan refinancing application with a private lender and see if you qualify.Reviewing the student loan refinancing pros and cons can help you decide whether refinancing is right for you. Refinancing federal student loans will remove your access to income-driven repayment plans offered by the federal government. Refinancing may not be right for you if you’re eligible for federal student loan forgiveness programs.One of the advantages of refinancing student loans is it may provide you with a lower interest rate. One of the big disadvantages of refinancing student loans with a private lender, however, is you’ll be forfeiting federal benefits, including income-driven repayment plans and federal student loan forgiveness programs.Your personal circumstances may dictate whether student loan refinancing is right for you. Some may ask, how long does it take to pay off student loans? It can take borrowers between 10 to 30 years to pay off federal student loans and five to 25 years to pay off private student loans.Some borrowers may never finish repaying a student loan during their lifetime. What happens to student loans when you die is the debt might be discharged, although some private lenders may demand repayment from your estate.The federal government in March 2020 suspended student loan payments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. After a number of extensions, the moratorium on student loan payments is scheduled to be lifted on August 31, 2022. Borrowers can make more than the minimum payment when repaying student loans.If you’re burdened with education loan debt and are interested in refinancing student loans, Lantern by SoFi can help. Explore your options today and consider applying with a lender of your choice.Find and compare student loan refinance options with Lantern.
Photo credit: iStock/Drazen_
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Frequently Asked Questions

Can graduate students fill out the FAFSA?
How much money can you get from FAFSA for grad school?
Do you need to create a new FAFSA account for graduate school?

About the Author

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman

Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman writes about personal loans, auto loans, student loans, and other personal finance topics for Lantern. He’s the recipient of more than 10 journalism awards and currently serves as a New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists board member. An alumnus of the Philadelphia-based Temple University, Abdur-Rahman is a strong advocate of the First Amendment and freedom of speech.
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