How Do You Pay for Graduate and Professional Education?

There are many options to explore when it comes to paying for college. Check out Peterson's Guide to Graduate Financial Aid for helpful articles and tips on finding sources to fund your graduate experience. Also, take a look at Stanford's Financing Graduate Study. While the information is specific to Stanford, it contains general information and specific details about paying for graduate education. Many graduate and professional schools have similar resources, so be sure to examine the schools that you are interested in very carefully for accurate information.

Below are a few specific steps to help you get started. The information for these steps is specifically for Grand Valley's graduate programs (have you considered these?), but most graduate schools and professional programs will have similar guidelines. Be sure to make an appointment with a financial aid representative to make sure you are aware of all of your options. Before you begin, you may want to consider this helpful worksheet to determine your financial needs to help estimate your financial need for further planning.

File the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

If you need help in paying for college the first step to take is to file the FAFSA. The FAFSA is what is used to determine your eligibility for federal, state, and some university based grants.

  • For priority consideration, the FAFSA must be filed by March 1 of the year you plan to attend.
  • Financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis until all aid is exhausted.

To file the FAFSA you will need:

  • Your federal tax information
  • The codes of any schools you wish to apply
  • Grand Valley's School Code: 002268

If you would like an estimate of your FAFSA eligibility complete the FAFSA4Caster.

Search for Scholarships

While less common than undergraduate scholarships, graduate scholarships are still available. Still consider all the methods you would in your undergrad and then expand your search to organizations and sponsorship opportunities. Also, refer to the fellowships and scholarships section.

Funding Through Employer

Some employers are willing to help you further your education. Talk with your supervisor about any assistance your employer can offer. Many employers offer some form of tuition reimbursement. You will probably need to remain at the company for some time once you've completed your graduate degree, but it can be a good idea if you were planning to do so anyway. Grand Valley is able to work with you and your employer through a Company Deferment Plan.

Graduate Assistantships

A graduate assistantship is a great opportunity to offset the expenses of a graduate degree. Responsibilities will vary by school and program, but usually consist of part-time teaching, setting up for professors and labs, and/or research duties. Compensation also varies, but could include covering the cost of some or all of your tuition along with a stipend or paycheck. It is advisable to ask about assistantship opportunities before accepting an offer from a graduate program. Also, start looking as soon as you decide which school to attend because they go fast. Schools usually will have full-time and part-time graduate assistantships available depending on their needs and then you can decide which ones to apply for based on your availability as well.

Grants and Loans

Grants and loans are an important source of support for graduate students. This aid may come from the institution, a state, the federal government, or sometimes your employer.

The federal government has a substantial interest in and commitment to federal student aid programs. Each year members of Congress and the administration labor to fund the various programs adequately. Since there is a limited amount of money appropriated for each program, many are need-based.

Need-based aid requires that applicants be certified by their academic institutions as having income and asset levels that fall within certain limitations. Current federal regulations make virtually all graduate students independent of parental support unless they are claimed as dependents on their parents’ federal income tax return. For independent graduate students, parental income is not considered in determining need and eligibility for federal financial aid programs. For people who have been working, salary in the year before they enter graduate school is the basis for determining need. A percentage of that salary has to be considered as an asset available to the student to pay for graduate school expenses.

The Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education provides descriptions of the types of programs that are offered for graduate and professional students through its website at Or you may want to call the Federal Student Aid Information Center toll free at 1-800-4-FED-AID (1-800-433-3243) to obtain copies of information that you need.

A basic resource about financial aid the Department of Education publication, Funding Education Beyond High School. This booklet, available at, offers general information on student eligibility, financial need, dependency status, and how to apply. In addition, all of the following aid programs are described:

Federal Pell Grants (available for limited post-baccalaureate teacher certification programs)

Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) and direct Loans

Stafford Loans

FFFEL Programs

Federal Work-Study

Federal Perkins Loans

Although federal loans are subsidized and carry lower interest rates than conventional bank loans, they are still debt. However, the debt you accrue in acquiring a graduate degree can be considered an investment in your future earning power.

Graduate Fellowships

A graduate fellowship may be available if your application demonstrates excellence and stands out among other candidates. Fellowships can be university awarded, federally funded, or could be offered by independent organizations. Many graduate programs are targeted to specific students or fields of study. Funding is usually based on academic need, academic record, or merit. The amount of stipend varies depending on the length of the fellowship and the fellowship provider. Students are encouraged to seek out these resources at each institution to which they plan to apply or are accepted. (Remember that most graduate students are more likely to be funded by graduate assistantships or teaching assistantships than fellowships.

There are also portable graduate fellowships that are available. Unlike institutional fellowships, portable graduate fellowships can be applied to the institution of the student's choice. This allows the student to have much more freedom.

Nationally Competitive Fellowships and Scholarships

Paying for graduate/professional school can be expensive. Fellowships, scholarships, and assistantships can help alleviate some of this financial stress.

  • GVSU's Frederik Meijer Office of Fellowships - Provides nationally competitive scholarship & fellowship advising services to GVSU students and alumni who show extraordinary potential in disciplines all across campus. These prestigious awards are highly selective funding opportunities that can be used for purposes such as studying abroad, conducting research, teaching English abroad, and more! The office is located in the Frederik Meijer Honors College, 120 Niemeyer in Allendale.
  • - Find fellowships to fund graduate school, go abroad, conduct research, or land your dream job.
  • Click here to learn more about the types of graduate school scholarships you can look for. Graduate Assistantships tend to be more common than scholarships in graduate school, so check with each program to determine if they offer assistantships.


Graduate School and You: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students

National Center for Education Statistics, 2007-08 National postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:08)