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What Kind of Financial Aid is Available for Graduate School? Will My Credit History Affect the Amount and Types of Aid?

Mark Kantrowitz

July 09, 2012

I recently decided to go back to school for a degree in software engineering. My short terms goal after school is to apply for a job with one of the top software application companies. My long term goal is to eventually start my own business specializing in creating custom apps for businesses and/or individuals. I am in debt from previous undergraduate loans and credit cards also. I am familiar with Fastweb and have started researching on graduate grants and loans for women in technology fields. I’ve read some of your articles but would like more information when it comes to graduate education. Will my credit history determine if I get a grant for school? Does FAFSA use credit score or debt to determine how much you get for school? What is the best way to get the maximum money for grad school? — Rose D.

Financial aid for graduate school differs from financial aid for undergraduate school.

Financial aid from the college or university tends to be decentralized, with each graduate department awarding its own financial aid funds. This is in contrast with undergraduate financial aid, which is much more likely to be centralized in a single financial aid office for the entire institution.

Graduate students, especially those in science and mathematics, are often funded through research contracts procured by individual faculty members. These graduate students work for the faculty member as a research assistant (RA). The research assistantship usually provides a tuition waiver and a small living expense stipend. More than half also include health insurance. Accordingly, the graduate student’s fortunes are more closely tied with those of the faculty member and the graduate department.

Graduate students may also be funded by teaching assistantships (TA), where the graduate student performs teaching duties, such as running a recitation or tutorial session for a large undergraduate class, grading assignments and tests, holding office hours and teaching one or more undergraduate classes. Teaching assistantships tend to be less generous than research assistantships. A teaching assistantship is less likely to offer a living stipend or health insurance, and may provide only a partial tuition waiver.

In addition to graduate fellowships from the graduate department, some graduate students win private fellowships from foundations and corporations. Fastweb not only lists scholarships for undergraduate school, but also fellowships and other forms of financial aid for graduate school. The tips from Secrets to Winning a Scholarship also apply to graduate fellowships.

There are no federal need-based grants for graduate school like the Pell Grant for undergraduate students. Individual federal agencies may offer their own fellowship programs, such as the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship and the US Department of Education’s Jacob K. Javits Fellowship in the arts, humanities and social sciences. These tend to be focused more on academic merit than financial need. After all, most graduate students demonstrate financial need, since they no longer are considered dependent on their parents for financial support (except perhaps for students in law school or medical school).


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