FAFSA for Graduate Schools

To qualify for federal student aid, such as grants, work-study, and loans, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Submitting the FAFSA form is free, and now it is easier than ever. If you are looking into graduate school, FAFSA will give you access to the most options for financial aid. In addition, many states and colleges use your FAFSA information to determine whether or not you qualify for state and school aid. Some private financial aid providers may also use your FAFSA information to determine your eligibility for aid.

Am I eligible to submit a FAFSA form?

First, let’s make sure you meet the basic criteria for receiving aid from the government. To be eligible for federal student aid, you must:

  • Be a citizen (or eligible noncitizen) of the United States.
  • Have a valid Social Security Number. (Students from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau are exempt from this requirement.)
  • Have a high school diploma or a General Education Development (GED) certificate, or have completed homeschooling.
  • Be enrolled in an eligible program as a regular student seeking a degree or certificate.
  • Maintain satisfactory academic progress.
  • Not owe a refund on a federal student grant or be in default on a federal student loan.
  • Register (or already be registered) with the Selective Service System, if the student is a male and not currently on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Not have a conviction for the possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense that occurred while the students were receiving federal student aid (such as grants, work-study, or loans). If the student has such a conviction, they must complete the Student Aid Eligibility Worksheet to determine if they are eligible for aid or partially eligible for aid.

If you meet all of the above criteria, then you can submit a FAFSA form.

Why should I fill out the FAFSA form?

If you don’t fill out the FAFSA form, you could be missing out on a lot of financial aid! We’ve heard a number of reasons students think they shouldn’t complete the FAFSA form. Here are a few:

  • “I (or my parents) make too much money, so I won’t qualify for aid.”
  • “Only students with good grades get financial aid.”
  • “The FAFSA form is too difficult to fill out.”
  • “I’m too old to qualify for financial aid.”

The reality is, EVERYONE who’s getting ready to go to graduate school should fill out the FAFSA form. The time it will take for you to complete the form is far less than the aid you may receive in the end. Additionally, as a graduate student, you will be evaluated based on your personal income level (not your parents’, as is commonly the case in undergrad). In most cases, this means that you qualify for more aid. According to FAFSA regulations, all households with an income less than $250,000 per year qualify for aid.

Even if you think you won’t qualify for aid, you should still try. If you fill out the FAFSA, you can obtain federal loans, which have far better interest rates than private loans. Taking the time to submit the FAFSA can provide better financial protection for you in the long run.

Types of financial aid available to graduate students through FAFSA

There are two main types of financial aid available to graduate students, the Federal Stafford Loan, and the Federal Grad PLUS loan.

Perkins Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans are also available in addition to the following:

  • School-based aid: The individual institutions decide what amount to award to the student based on need and merit.
  • Work-study: As part of the students’ package they could receive a work-study option where they work an on-campus job where the salary would apply towards their tuition.
  • Scholarships: State aid will have scholarships available by field of study, interest, or school type.

How do I submit the FAFSA?

You can fill out the FAFSA forms online, or you can pick up a paper-based copy at a public library or college.

  1. Go to www.fsaid.ed.gov to obtain an FSA ID. An FSA ID is a student digital signature for the FAFSA.
  2. Then go to www.FAFSA.gov. You will need to know your personal demographic information, driver’s license number, Social Security number, and have copies of your prior year’s tax returns.
  3.  Choose which FAFSA form you would like to complete.
  4. Next, fill out the demographics section. Information will include the your name, date of birth, etc.
  5. In the School Selection section, you must add every school you are considering, even if you haven’t applied or received an acceptance letter yet.
  6. Supply your financial information. You can use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which allows you to import your IRS tax information into the FAFSA form with just a few clicks. To access the tool, indicate that you have “already completed” taxes on the student finances page. If you are eligible, you will see a “LINK TO IRS” button.If you haven’t completed your taxes, you have two options. One is to answer “not going to file.” You can skip the questions about income tax, exemptions, and adjusted gross income. Otherwise, you can respond “will file.” If you choose this option and your previous annual income is similar to your current income, you can use a previous income tax return to provide estimates for questions about your income. If your income is not similar, you can click “Income Estimator” for help in estimating your adjusted gross income. Then answer the remaining questions as best as possible.
  7. Finally, sign and submit the FAFSA form.

What is the deadline for filling out the FAFSA?

For the 2019–20 FAFSA, online applications must be submitted by June 30, 2020. Additionally, any corrections or updates must be submitted by September 12, 2020.

Many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for applying for state and institutional financial aid. You can find your state’s deadline at https://fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm   or check with your college.

Because of the variation in state and college deadlines, it is highly recommended that you fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can. Additionally, federal aid is issued on a rolling basis, meaning that the earlier you apply, the better your chances are of receiving maximum aid.

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R is a freelance writer, primarily specializing in education and travel. She is a digital nomad and currently lives somewhere in Europe.

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