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Graduate school is a wonderful next step toward advancing your education and career. Additional degrees can set you apart from your peers as you pursue new job opportunities or promotions. That said, some of the major considerations in this decision surround financial aid for graduate students. What is it? How does it work? And, most importantly, how do people afford master’s degrees? In this article, we’ll be diving in and answering these questions to help you combat any hurdles in the path to your graduate school journey. First off, congratulations on taking the next steps in your educational journey. According to the U.S. Government Census results, only about 13.1% of the American population pursues their master’s degree, which puts you in rarified company. By continuing your education, you are increasing your earning potential. Alumni of graduate schools are sought-after job candidates. But obtaining your master’s is not easy and can be expensive, so make sure you apply for as much free money as possible.

What is financial aid for graduate students?

Financial aid for grad students is any money from the federal or state governments, your school, or any organization that can help you pay for tuition, room and board, and living expenses as you attend graduate school. It comes in several forms and, depending on what the aid is, may or may not need to be paid back. Scholarships, grants and work-study are considered earned money that does not need to be repaid. Student loans on the other hand, are just that—loans—and will need to be repaid. Financial aid can vary in amount, qualifiers, and repayment terms. Specifically, most financial aid varies significantly depending on if you are attending graduate school full- or part-time. 

Who is considered a full-time graduate student for financial aid?

Though the definition of a full-time student may vary based on your form of aid, most financial aid opportunities consider anyone taking more than 9 credits per semester to be full-time. Full-time students are able to apply for the maximum level of financial aid as they will be required to pay more for school in a shorter amount of time.

Who is considered a half-time graduate student for financial aid?

Part-time students, also known as half-time students, are able to spread out their payments across a longer amount of time and as a result, often qualify for less financial aid (or a smaller percentage of it) than full-time students. Half-time graduate students are those taking at least 4.5 credits per semester, but no more than 8.5 credits. Financial aid for part-time graduate students is often sourced the same way as full-time aid, but might only provide 50% of the relief.
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How do I get the most financial aid for grad school?

In order to help cover the cost of graduate school, we recommend applying for a variety of financial aid opportunities—especially those that don’t require repayment. In addition to the type of aid programs listed below, you can also search our blog for more information on financial aid and saving for school. 


Some of the best sources of financial aid for graduate students are scholarships because they don’t require repayment options. Scholarships can come from your school, nonprofits or professional organizations and may be merit- or service-based, or simply granted through an application process. We recommend applying for as many scholarships for grad students as possible.

If you’re looking for an annual scholarship contest that’s open to both undergrad and grad students, enter the Frame My Future contest, which gives away $10k each year. This no-essay contest asks students to depict how they envision their future through an original photograph, illustration, mixed-media collage, sculpture, or other artistic creation.


Compared to scholarships, grants are typically based on financial need, as opposed to merit or achievements. Federal and state governments, schools, and other organizations require you to fill out the U.S. Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your financial need before considering you for a grant. Which leads us to another common question…

Is FAFSA available for graduate students?

Yes, graduate students can fill out FAFSA to find out what financial aid they are eligible for. In fact, we strongly recommend FAFSA for grad school programs, since you may be eligible for federal funds. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 58% of graduate students receive some form of financial aid and 26% of graduate students get grants, averaging $10,400 per student. But this is only possible if you submit your FAFSA for graduate school.

Does the Pell Grant cover master’s degrees?

Unfortunately, Pell Grants are for undergraduate students only (with some rare exceptions, such as postbaccalaureate teacher certification programs). That said, there are a few other grants for graduate students that we suggest looking into. 

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Federal work-study provides part-time jobs for graduate students to help them cover some of the cost of tuition. It is available to both part- and full-time students, and its availability depends on your specific school, so we suggest checking with your school’s financial aid department to learn more. Ask about the availability of financial aid for graduate school programs and independent student mentor or tutor positions.

Students who are in the work-study program often staff the school library, registrar’s office, computer lab, and help desks. Responsibilities include mentoring students, typing and sending out memos, making copies, assisting with tech issues, monitoring computer use, and answering calls. What’s great about work-study is that it is valuable college experience for your resume. Plus, deans and professors are more than happy to supply you with letters of recommendation based on your work performance.

Student Loans

Student loans (from the government, state, or nonprofits/private students loans) help cover the expenses of graduate school, but require repayment with interest. Although federal student loans are the most popular, there are a variety of sources one can look into to help ease the financial burden of returning to school.

It’s important to understand the different between subsidized and unsubsidized loans. While subsidized loans won’t require students to pay interest while enrolled in graduate school or during grace periods (usually six months after graduation), students must pay interest rate fees of unsubsidized loans right away.

Financial aid for international graduate students in the USA

One thing to be aware of is that federal loans are only available to U.S. citizens. If you’re an international student studying in the United States, we recommend looking into your home government’s financial aid opportunities and other international student scholarships to assist you with graduate school expenses.

Final Thoughts

A master’s degree is an incredible achievement that can help you take the next step in your career path by providing you with additional education and by setting you apart from your peers and colleagues. Though paying for graduate school can seem daunting at first, there are countless sources of financial aid for graduate students and we hope this blog has helped you understand the options available to you. 

If you do pursue graduate school and earn your master’s degree—you should be proud of yourself. That’s why we created our college-specific and graduate program diploma frames, so you can proudly display your master’s degree for years to come. Framing your degree, or gifting a framed degree to a recent graduate, is one of the best ways to commemorate this hard-earned and well-deserved achievement. 

So whether you are just starting to look into graduate school or are wrapping up your master’s degree, ensure that you celebrate this major milestone with an officially licensed degree frame. You’ve worked hard to earn this certification. Make sure you protect this financial investment for all its worth.

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