FAFSA for Graduate Programs – The complete Guide


The U.S. Department of Education uses the FAFSA application to assess the eligibility of a student based on their financial condition for need-based federal financial assistance for college. There are many sources through which students can fulfill their financial needs, in which FAFSA is one among them. 

Note that the colleges/universities also provide exclusive financial support for the students which is commonly known as institutional aid. Federal grants, federal loans, scholarships, work-study, and/or loans can provide federal financial assistance for students. 

When it comes to Graduate programs which include PhD, Masters, and Online Master’s, the rules and application process for FAFSA are different than when you had applied for FAFSA as an undergraduate student.

What is FAFSA?

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a form to assess the eligibility for student financial assistance performed by current and prospective college students (undergraduate and graduate) in the United States, helping the students to fulfill their dreams of doing higher education with the amount of money offered by FAFSA

Students who are receiving financial assistance must complete the FAFSA every year. Grants, scholarships, work-study plans, and student loans are among the many types of financial assistance available. It costs nothing to fill out the application. Allowing others to complete it for a fee is a fraud.

The bulk of financial assistance is awarded depending on financial need. The difference between the college’s cost of attendance and your Expected Family Contribution is your financial need (EFC). Tuition and fees, books, materials, room and board, personal costs, and transportation are all included in the cost of attendance, which is decided by the school.

The EFC is measured using the data you have on the FAFSA. Dependency status, family size, wages, savings, and the number of household members enrolled in college or trade schools all have an effect.

How Does FAFSA Work?

The FAFSA is the official form used for families to apply for the federal government’s financial assistance for master’s education(online master’s degree or on-campus master’s degree). The details contained in the application are often used by States, independent colleges and universities as well as private scholarship services. 

FAFSA’s key aim is to identify the amount of financial assistance for which you apply, providing aid-dependent both on needs and non-needs. FAFSA sets the eligibility for a federal necessity-related program, like a Pell Grant, Federal Supplementary Opportune Opportunity Grant (FSEOG). Federally subsidized loans based on needs. Unsubsidized federal student loans, which most borrowers apply for irrespective of need. 

The FAFSA asks a series of questions about the income and properties of parents and pupils, as well as other variables, such as how many children there are in the household, to assess the financial need of a family. An Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) then comes up, which, according to the rationale of the federal government, reflects how much of the education expenses the family will be able to cover from its own money.

The other factors that affect FAFSA are your marital status, dependent or independent student, family income, credit hours, working adult, part-time graduate student, and many more

In terms of savings, the FAFSA assumes that in every one college year, 20% of the assets of a student and 5.64% of the assets of parents should be eligible for spending. Such assets include savings deposits and pensions, but the value of pension accounts, life insurance benefits, and annuities are exempt. Any equity in the family home is exempt as well. 

The details you give to the FAFSA decides whether you are eligible for need-based assistance, non-need-based aid, or a combination of the two.

FAFSA is even for some international students with a set of different rules and conditions. There are several international organizations that can support students with this.

If you are not qualified to fill out the FAFSA itself, you will use the Federal Student Aid‘s FAFSA4caster web office to receive an estimation of the EFC and the chances of obtaining financial aid.

Requirements To Apply FAFSA For Graduate Students

  • Your Social Security Number (can be found on Social Security card)  
  • Your driver’s license (if any) 
  • W-2 Forms from two years prior and other records of any money earned 
  • Your (and/or your parents’) Federal Income Tax Return from two years prior — IRS Form 1040, foreign tax return, or tax return from Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Federated State of Micronesia 
  • Any untaxed income records for two years prior — e.g., payments to tax deferred pension and savings plans, tax exempt interest, and child support received two years prior 
  • Records of taxable earnings from Federal Work-Study or other need-based work programs 
  • Records of any grants, scholarships, and fellowship aid that was included in your or your parents’ adjusted gross income (AGI) 
  • Any current bank statements 
  • Any current business and investment mortgage information, business and farm records, stock, bonds, and other investment records 
  • Documentation that you are a U.S. permanent resident or other eligible noncitizen, if applicable

Who Are Eligible For FAFSA?

  • To be eligible for financial aid, you’ll need to:
  • Have a high school diploma or a recognized equivalence, such as a GED, or have completed a home-school high school curriculum permitted by the state.
  • You must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen with U.S. national status, or you must have a green card, an Arrival/Departure Record (I-94), battered immigrant-qualified alien status, or a T visa, or you must be a parent with a T-1 visa.
  • You must have a valid Social Security number.
  • Be a member of the Selective Service. This applies only if you are a male between the ages of 18 and 25 who is not already serving in the military.
  • Be enrolled or approved for enrollment in a degree or certificate program that qualifies.
  • If you are already enrolled in college, maintain good academic progress. The definition of adequate academic progress varies with each school.

Does Being A Dependent Or An Independent Student Affect FAFSA?

Your FAFSA dependency status as either an independent student or a dependent student is determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA application). The difference between the two depends on the level of access that the student in question has to the financial support of their parents. It is very important to fill out the FAFSA and to recognize your dependence status since it decides how the financial assistance is measured and how you will borrow the full amount of direct loans.

To know how to apply for FAFSA as an independent student, visit our post How does being a Dependent or an Independent Student Affect FAFSA?

Does Marital Status Affect FAFSA?

Marriage plays into eligibility for financial assistance because it affects both the status of your dependence and your finances. You are a dependent of your parents before your 24th birthday for the purposes of the FAFSA, even though you do not reside with them or they do not claim you as a dependent on their tax return. As a dependent, it is necessary to include both your financial information and that of your parents in the formula that determines your financial need.

Getting married grants you independent status automatically, even though you’re younger than 24. As a young married couple, the financial support will definitely improve without including mom and dad’s income and savings included in the FAFSA. 

If you and your spouse are therefore not as financially well-off as the parents of the student, getting married before you turn 24 could maximize your eligibility for student assistance. If parents don’t earn much, though, and have multiple dependents or other kids who are also in college, you could gain from retaining your dependence status and waiting until after graduation to tie the knot.

The marital status of a student and his or her parents may affect the amount of need-based financial support granted. Also, be careful about answering FAFSA questions about marital status correctly. Do not confuse the question about the marital status of the learner with the question about the marital status of the parent.

If you want to know more on how marital status affect your FAFSA, please visit How does being a Dependent or an Independent Student Affect FAFSA for Graduate programs?

Can A Working Adult Apply For FAFSA?

You may be curious if you’re qualifying for financial assistance as an adult who is considering going back to school. Hearing “FAFSA” might conjure up a picture of excited teenagers preparing for their first day of school. No fear, adult students are not left alone to fund their schooling! Any type of assistance is obtained by almost all who apply, irrespective of age. The FAFSA is a form that decides your federal grants, work-study services, and loan eligibility.

You can find more information about applying for FAFSA as a working adult here

Do Online Master’s Degrees Qualify For FAFSA?

Many online certified schools accept the same federal financial support as schools in brick and mortar. This ensures that the free application for federal student aid is usually available for FAFSA help in many online colleges. However, some online colleges are licensed differently and do not accept federal financial assistance.

Financial funding allows students to pay for their diplomas online. Every year $120 billion in financial assistance is offered by the Federal Student Aid Program. Undergrads earn an average of $13,000 in grants and scholarships per year. Online learners will save thousands on college expenses by looking for funding options.

Almost 7 million students engaged in remote learning courses in 2018. Luckily, online students may offer many of the same forms of financial support as on-campus students. It will make college more accessible by recognizing scholarships, loans, fellowships, and other forms of financial assistance. To apply for federal financial assistance services, online learners should guarantee that the FAFSA is filled out every year.

To know more about eligibility criteria and types of financial aid available for online master’s degrees, you can check our post “Do Online Master Programs Qualify for FAFSA?

Do Part-Time Graduate Students Qualify For FAFSA?

Students on a part-time basis have to pay per credit. Hence, for a semester, they cost less than full-time students. Tuition hits a limit if a pupil earns enough grades for full-time status. This suggests that a student who earns eighteen credits would pay the same tuition rate as anyone who receives at least twelve credits. 

There is, though, something called a “full course load” as well. You require permission to take additional courses in certain schools than what is perceived to be a complete course load. For the extra degree, you will even have to pay. Bear this in mind when deciding how many credits you choose to take in a semester.

Just because you can’t go to college full-time because of family or job commitments doesn’t mean you have to give up on a college dream. Many of the same forms of financial assistance offered to full-time students — loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study services — are also open to part-time students.

Any restrictions and requirements still apply, however. Students must also be registered for at least a half-time period (which is at least six credit hours per term for certain colleges) to apply for some scholarships, grants, and other systems of financial assistance. 

They will ought to do well academically and have to show economic necessity. Usually, part-time students who are given financial assistance will not get as much funding as full-time students. How much they get depends on the amount of credit hours they are eligible for.

You can find more information about here – Do Part-Time Graduate Programs Qualify for FAFSA?

Course Credit Requirement For FAFSA

You will need to complete 12 credit hours each term to apply for the entire amount of financial assistance, including scholarships and student loans. That means you are a full-time student enrolled in classes.

For several students, especially those who have responsibilities outside of education, such as a job or family, full-time enrollment may be challenging.

In some of these cases, if you take less than 12 credit hours, you will be entitled to get a portion of your financial assistance. For example, the Pell Grant has a smaller credit requirement threshold than most other types of financial assistance. 

You must be enrolled for 12 credit hours a term in order to obtain full assistance from the Pell Grant. However, as long as you are eligible for 3 credits for every course, virtually all recipients get some help.

To know more about course credit requirements visit Maximum and Minimum Credit Hours Required for FAFSA for Graduate Programs

FAFSA For Part-Time MBA Programs. What Are The Requirements?

Students on a part-time basis have to pay per credit. Hence, for a semester, they cost less than full-time students. Tuition hits a limit if a pupil earns enough grades for full-time status. This suggests that a student who earns eighteen credits would pay the same tuition rate as anyone who receives at least twelve credits. There is, though, something called a “full course load” as well. You require permission to take additional courses in certain schools than what is perceived to be a complete course load. For the extra degree, you will even have to pay. Bear this in mind when deciding how many credits you choose to take in a semester.

Just because you can’t go to college full-time because of family or job commitments(working adults) doesn’t mean you have to give up on a college dream. Many of the same forms of financial assistance offered to full-time students through FAFSA — loans, grants, scholarships, and work-study services — are also open to part-time students.

Know more at FAFSA for part time mba program

Can International Students Qualify in FAFSA?

Free Federal Student Aid Application (FAFSA) seeks to detect what financial support the federal government or schools might have for US citizens and those qualifying non-citizens. 

Although foreign students do not apply to obtain FAFSA federal assistance, the form remains relevant. What is the reason? Any schools will need to decide whether you can get funding from the school or the state in which the school is situated specifically. 

You cannot send this form online as a foreign student who does not have a US Social Security number but should print a copy and mail it. The sooner you send it, the better because some financial assistance is distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Forms other than FAFSA, such as the International Student Financial Aid Application (ISFAA), or school-specific forms, may be required by some schools. Contact the schools you are involved in figuring out the form they choose before taking the time to complete one of these forms. Notice that not all schools provide international financial support, which may be an important consideration when applying.

If you are an international student, then you should check out this post Can International Students Qualify in FAFSA for Masters Programs?

How to Apply for FAFSA for Graduate Programs?

Before applying for FAFSA, you need to first know when to apply. If you miss the timeline to apply for FAFSA then all the invested energy is of no use. Below is the table describing the timeline to apply for FAFSA.

Now you have got to know when to apply for FAFSA, now the question rises as ‘How to apply for FAFSA?’. Below are the steps that clearly guide you in filling up the FAFSA form.

Gather Your Information

You’ll be asked to include some details as you fill out the FAFSA. By getting all the relevant paperwork and documentation on hand, you can speed up the process. You should have:

  1. Your Social Security number
  2. Your family size and income
  3. Your personal income (if any)
  4. The list of colleges you’re applying to

Create a Federal Student Aid (FSA) ID

Your next move is to generate an FSA ID by registering for the FAFSA online or with a smartphone app. This is a unique identifier used each year you are in college to complete the FAFSA. Creation takes about 10 minutes, and it can be completed fully online. Students have their own special FSA ID. Your FSA ID would be different from that of your child if you’re a parent.

Fill in Student Information

You can start the FAFSA online or via the app once you have got your FSA ID. Choose the form that you most likely wish to complete in the next school year, and begin to fill out the demographic portion of the student. Your information, such as your name, age, and date of birth, is asked for in this segment.

You’ll also be asked to join the schools that you choose to attend. Be sure that you enter all schools that you consider so that you receive the full assistance that you are eligible to receive from each one.

For the dependence portion, for financial assistance purposes, you will be asked questions deciding whether or not you are dependent on your parents.

Enter Parent Information

You need to insert details about your parents after you’ve finished the student section. And if you are not actually staying with your parents, this portion also has to be finished. You will be asked by the form to enter their names, mailing addresses, and other records.

Provide Your Financial Information

First, you need to include financial information for your family, including your salary and that of your parents. You should use the IRS Data Extraction Service when filing for FAFSA online, which automatically collects the appropriate data from your tax return.

Review Your FAFSA

Make sure that you check the FAFSA for any mistakes or errors before sending it. Double-check the number of schools you have joined, as well as the financial records.

Sign and Submit Your FAFSA form

When you’re confident all of the details are right, you can sign and send the form online.

10 Quick Facts About FAFSA For Graduate Programs


About David

After completing his undergraduate, David wanted to get a Master's degree. Looking at cost of getting a 2 year degree, David decided there should be some financial aid and scholarship available to help out students like him. He has since then been researching on Graduate program scholarships and how to help future students like him secure a financial aid and make the education affordable.

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