Understanding Graduate Financial Aid: How to Pay For Grad School

October 24, 2018

Graduate financial aid counselor talking with student.

The thought of paying for graduate school can be overwhelming; however, there are programs in place to help those who want to continue their education. Research the many different opportunities to secure loans, scholarships and grants that will help you cover the cost of graduate school.

To help jumpstart your research, we consulted Jennifer VanBrederode, Director of Financial Aid and Planning for Quinnipiac University’s online programs. Jen has worked at the University in financial aid for eight years with both undergraduate and graduate students. “I am happy to speak with anyone who has questions about the process. By doing so, I am able to give them the information needed in order to make the most responsible decision in terms of borrowing,” states Jen.

What type of financial aid is available for graduate students?

Federal Loans

Those who meet eligibility requirements can borrow the maximum loan amount per academic year of $20,500. Federal loans for graduate school do not require a credit check, have a fixed interest rate, and are granted based on federal guidelines. The government’s Student Aid site will answer many of your questions regarding federal loans. Please be sure to visit this link as part of your research.

Private Loans

Private loans are usually based on your credit score and have variable interest rates. These types of loans vary in terms of “borrower eligibility, co-signer requirements, interest rates, maximum loan levels and repayment options,” states Jen. You can find information on alternative education loans on Quinnipiac’s online financial aid page.

When do I have to start paying my loans back?

Federal Loans

You have a six month grace period after you graduate or drop below half time enrollment before you have to repay your loans. There are affordable repayment options for everyone. There may be extenuating circumstances where you may need more time to pay off your loan, or you may be eligible for forgiveness, cancellation or discharge of your loan. Federal lenders work with students to help those who need it.

Private Loans

You enter repayment immediately after graduation without a grace period. You don’t have the same borrower benefits as federal loans. Always check with your lender for specific details of your loan. Please click here for important information on alternative education loans.

Is there a difference between undergraduate and graduate financial aid?

As an undergraduate, you were most likely still a dependent. Your parents filled out the FAFSA (Free Application For Federal Student Aid) and depending on income and other factors, you were eligible for a certain amount of loans. Federal financial aid for graduate students is different. General FAFSA eligibility requirements state that you must be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen, be enrolled in an eligible degree program at your college, and meet additional criteria that you can find here: student aid eligibility.

Unlike undergraduate federal loans, graduate loans are not based on your financial profile. Students who meet the eligibility requirements outlined in the above link, will receive the maximum in loans per year. Jen does recommend that students borrow only what they need in order to pay for school.

What are other ways I can pay for my graduate degree?

Grants and Scholarships

There are many opportunities for graduate students to find money through grants and scholarships. You can find scholarship programs that are awarded through private organizations.

“While scholarships aren’t as abundant for graduate students as they are for undergraduate students, there are plenty of resources out there for a graduate student to receive scholarships. I have had many students access various resources and become successful in obtaining outside scholarships to help finance their graduate program. Be patient, do your research, and you are bound to find something,” advises Jen.

Corporate Partnerships

Some schools offer corporate partnerships that provide employees with exclusive tuition discounts. For example, through its corporate partnerships, Quinnipiac offers select organizations a 10% tuition discount on its online degree programs - please request information to connect with an admissions counselor to learn more.

Tuition Reimbursement

Many companies offer some type of tuition assistance for their employees. Be sure to check with your Human Resource department to see if there is a program for employees at your workplace.

Typically, an employer will reimburse the student after they have received their grade. In this case, schools may offer an employer deferred payment plan. You can defer your payment until you get the check from your employer. If a student is taking a loan, Jen advises “to pay off student loan debt with the reimbursement they get from their employer.”

What is the application process for FAFSA?

The FAFSA application is completely online:

  1. Fill out the correct forms.
  2. Complete any outstanding documents.
  3. Wait for the award.

Check Quinnipiac's self-service portal to see when your loans have been awarded. You are responsible to ensure your FAFSA is complete. Your school’s financial aid advisor will be able to answer your questions.

A Final Word

Navigating the financial piece of higher education can be daunting, and we are hoping that this gave you a head start on the process. There are many options for you to help pay for your schooling, so be sure to investigate all of them, ask questions and feel good about the decision you make.

“A lot of people don’t have the money to pay upfront, and that is where grants, scholarships, loans and reimbursements all work together so that the student ends up borrowing as little as possible,” states Jen.

Our team is here to help you throughout your decision making process. We invite you to visit our online financial aid and planning page. You may contact us at 203-582-3981, and we will be happy to answer questions you have about pursuing a graduate degree online at Quinnipiac.