Can You Get Financial Aid for Grad School?

Graduate Student Financial Aid | 6 MIN READ

graduate school financial aid

“The more you learn, the more you earn,” says the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 2021, the BLS estimated the annual salary of the average worker with a master’s degree to be $81,848, while the average wage for those with a bachelor’s degree was about $69,368.

A master’s degree can be an advantageous investment for your future, but with tuition, fees and possible living expenses, it can be costly. So, how do you pay for it? Is financial aid available for graduate students?

The answer is yes. Graduate students are eligible for various types of financial aid that can help defray costs and support an affordable investment in a master’s degree program that has an immense impact on your personal and professional growth.

Types of Aid for Graduate Students

Prospective graduate students often make the mistake of thinking financial aid is only available to undergraduates when, in fact, there are many financial aid opportunities for graduate students, including:

  • Scholarships (merit-based)
  • Fellowships
  • Federal loans (which must be repaid)

Scholarships are need- and merit-based awards that cover a portion of the tuition and fees for attending the university. Fellowships cover most, sometimes all, tuition costs while offering the student hands-on professional experience at the university; many also provide students a monthly stipend. Both scholarships and fellowships do not require repayment.

Foundations, local businesses and professional, religious and ethnicity-based organizations are possible sources of funding. Some excellent resources for finding graduate student grants and scholarships based on area of study, interests, and community membership are:


Alternative Funding and Cost-Saving Opportunities

In addition to the traditional financial aid opportunities, there are alternative opportunities that can help graduate students manage their investment in their education.

Employer Reimbursement Programs

Employer-sponsored tuition reimbursement programs, sometimes called tuition assistance programs, provide financial support for employee academic pursuits. Most commonly, companies offer a fixed annual figure that they will reimburse for approved tuition expenses.

This is often an underutilized source of funding for graduate education that can help close the gap and make education and professional goals a reality. The goal of these programs is to foster long-term advancement of the knowledge and skillset of the company’s employees, keeping the organization agile and innovative in a fast-moving marketplace.

Typically, the human resources department administers this program in conjunction with the employee’s management to ensure the academic program selected aligns with current and future job requirements.

Tuition Waiver Programs

Some institutions also offer waiver programs that allow students to take a set number of credits free of charge if they meet certain prerequisite criteria. These waivers help connect prospective students with best-fit academic programs for their professional goals and also help lessen the financial burden of pursuing a degree program. For example, Elmhurst University’s graduate vouchers offer the opportunity for eligible alumni and students interested in specific graduate degree programs to take a course for free.

Accelerated Graduate Programs

Many universities also offer accelerated programs that allow you to complete your degree in one year, which gets you into the workforce and earning a salary sooner. Part-time programs are usually available to graduate students, so you can work while earning your degree. Other institutions offer dual degree programs in which you complete your bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the same time, saving you tuition.

Filing for Federal Aid as a Graduate Student

Applying for graduate school federal financial aid follows the same process as applying for undergraduate federal aid. To get started, you must first submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Keep these important facts in mind when applying for federal financial aid:

  • You must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen to qualify for federal aid
  • FAFSA application opens on December 1 for the year following’s fall semester
  • You must submit a FAFSA form every year you are enrolled in a graduate program

The amount of federal aid available is limited. Give yourself the best chance of receiving aid by:

  • Submitting your FAFSA early while more funds are available
  • Making a checklist to keep yourself on track
  • Meeting FAFSA deadlines

One important difference between the undergraduate FAFSA and the graduate FAFSA is that almost all graduate students are considered independent, which means you are not required to provide parent information, instead you will enter your own income and assets. Still, it is always worthwhile to submit the FAFSA. It takes about one hour to complete, and with the information you provide, the government can determine whether you are eligible for:

You can find detailed information on eligibility and types of available federal aid on the  Financial Aid Graduate or Professional Students website.

An Affordable Investment in Your Future

Elmhurst University offers several ways to help manage the cost of your master’s degree, including scholarships, fellowships, and payment plans. These aid opportunities aim to ease your apprehension about pursuing a graduate degree.

Graduate studies scholarships include:

  • Elmhurst Graduate Award, need-based awards
  • Graduate Scholarships, merit-based awards
  • Graduate Early Action Scholarship
  • Graduate Student Legacy Scholarship
  • Graduate Student Scholarship Competition, leadership award
  • Nursing DNP Leadership Scholarship

Fellowships in specific subject areas include:

  • Thaskala Graduate Fellowship (Teacher Leadership Program)
  • Hardin Fellowship for Marketing and Consumer Insights
  • Goodban Fellowship for Communication Sciences and Disorders
  • Occupational Therapy Fellowship
  • Master’s Entry in Nursing Practice Fellowship

As with all federal aid, Elmhurst’s scholarships and fellowships are limited. The best way to give yourself an advantage is to plan ahead and apply early for your program of interest.

Applying for financial aid takes time and research. Start the process early, be aware of deadlines, and reach out to the Office of Student Financial Services for more information and assistance.

Explore Your Graduate School Financial Aid Opportunities

A master’s degree gives you increased career opportunities and higher earning potential and unlocks an advanced skill set that provides personal and professional growth. Various forms of graduate student financial aid are available to help support your investment in a graduate degree program.

Uncover the many ways to fund your graduate education at Elmhurst University by requesting more information below.

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Illustration by Lucie Rice
Posted September 12, 2023

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