Question: I am currently a part-time graduate student. Up until this point, my employer paid for my education, but I recently switched companies. I am currently enrolled in 3 credit hours each semester. What are my financial aid options?
The first thing you’ll want to do is apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The college or university you’re attending for grad school will use your FAFSA information to determine your financial aid eligibility and the financial aid options available to you.
It’s also important to note that you may qualify for federal emergency financial aid
relief. However, you must have had applied or renewed your FAFSA to have access to these emergency student grants for college students—some of which you do not have to pay back.
Completing or renewing this will give you access, if eligible, to several types of financial aid resources to help you pay for your graduate degree. Students working toward their graduate degree are typically considered independent students
when completing the FAFSA. This means you will not have to supply parent information or income when filling out your FAFSA.
Credit Hour Eligibility Requirements for Graduate Students
According to Federal Student Aid
, colleges have different specifications to what qualifies as being enrolled as a half-time graduate student. Most universities consider 4.5 credit hours as half-time enrollment for graduate students. In order to qualify for the most common federal financial aid programs, you must be enrolled as, at least, a half-time student.
To take advantage of the possible federal financial aid funds, consider increasing your credit hours to qualify as, at least a half-time graduate student. Check with your financial aid office at the college you’re attending to find out what their credit hour requirements are to qualify as a half-time graduate student.
Types of Federal Financial Aid for Grad Students
After you’ve renewed or submitted your FAFSA, you may qualify for some of the four types of student loan programs
There are two types within this federal loan program, managed by the Department of Education. This is money lended to you by the federal government, rather than a bank or private education loan company. The benefit to these loans is that your interest rate is fixed and lower than many private loans. Also, if you work in a public service job you may qualify for loan forgiveness after a certain period of time via the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF).
The Direct Loan Program
Direct Unsubsidized Loans If you qualify for a DSL, you can borrow up to $20,500 per school year. Be sure to visit your college’s financial office to see if you may qualify for more DULs, as some professional health programs provide more funding.
Direct PLUS Loans If the amount of your DUL loan doesn't cover your graduate school costs for the year, you can choose to cover your additional education costs with a Direct PLUS Loan. You will have to have a credit check to apply for this type of federal student loan.
If the master’s degree you’re working on is intended for a career in teaching, you may qualify for the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant. This form of financial aid will provide you with up to $4,000 each school year.
You will need to be sure the grad program qualifies and/or the college you’re attending is eligible to provide TEACH Grants. A financial aid counselor at your college will be able to provide details.
While the original question mentions you’re a full-time working professional, the Federal Work-Study (FWS) program offers part-time jobs for graduate students. The money you earn working in the FWS program is an extra source of income that goes toward any other educational expenses you may have.
This form of financial aid may be hard to achieve if you’re currently a full-time working professional—but it is a financial aid option.
Federal Work-Study Program
This type of financial aid does not have to be paid back. In fact most grants do not. The Federal Pell Grant is not a loan and is set aside for low-income families. Some graduate teacher certification programs, such as a Master of Arts in Education or a Master of Science in Education, qualify for Pell Grants. Pell Grant amounts change each year.
The current maximum Federal Pell Grant for 2021-2022 is $6,495. Factors like enrollment status and cost of attendance affect the amount you may earn.
Federal Pell Grant
Paying for Grad School If You Don’t Qualify for Federal Financial Aid
If you’ve completed your FAFSA and don’t qualify for federal aid, you still have options to help you pay for your postbaccalaureate degree.
If you have financial aid questions or concerns, Finaid.org is a helpful resource. Check out their “Answering Your Questions” section to see if your concern has already been addressed, or to ask a new question.
Scholarships are essentially free money that doesn't need to be paid back; so, this is an ideal resource to help you pay for your graduate degree. There are numerous scholarships out there for grad students. Universities often offer institutional scholarships related to specific graduate degree programs too. Connect with the graduate degree program coordinator to see what program scholarships are offered at your college.
Working toward your master’s degree while working in a professional career is no easy task. Make the scholarship search, and paying for college easier, by creating a free Fastweb profile. From this, you’ll be matched to grad student fellowships and scholarships that fit your career path.
As you mentioned, your previous employer offered a tuition assistance program. Be sure to ask the HR department at your new workplace if they offer any tuition assistance, too. Don’t just assume they do not offer tuition assistance.
Companies have discovered employee tuition reimbursement is a nice perk to lure in talented and driven employees. Also, the Pandemic has opened employer tax breaks related to student tuition assistance, thanks to the CARES ACT. According to 425 Business, this provided “...up to $5,250 in student loan repayment contributions or tuition assistance...” through 2025.
Employer Tuition Assistance
Another financial option to help you pay for graduate school is applying for a private student loan. Private lenders require a credit check and often offer variable rates, so you’ll want to begin paying on these while you’re in grad school.
This type of student financing is offered from credit unions and banks. Before you take out a private student loan, check out private student loan options on Fastweb. You should also ask your university’s financial aid office if they have any private student loan lender partnerships.
Looking for more ways to pay for grad school? Check out this resource from Finaid.org.
Private Student Loans