One assumption made by financial aid recipients that needs clarification is the belief that loans are not considered financial assistance.
In fact, the vast majority of financial aid dollars are disbursed to students in the form of loans. While federal and state governments do dish out plenty of grant and scholaship aid, loans (often termed “self-help aid, along with work study) are the cornerstone of the modern financial aid industry. This is an important distinction to make, particularly if you enter a post graduate program. As a graduate student, you will no longer be eligible for a Pell grant or any other federal grant aid. Aid eligibility for graduate students usually falls into three categories: loans, assistantships and fellowships. From the Department of Education, the only funds you can rely on as a graduate student are your graduate level student loans and the new PLUS loan for Graduate Students. 18,500 is the academic year maximum you can borrow in guaranteed student loan funds; 8,500 of which may be subsidized depending upon your FAFSA data and demostrated need. If the cost of attendance at your institution exceeds 18,500 per academic year, and you have no other financial assistance, you may consider a Graduate PLUS Loan.
The difference between the guaranteed student loan and the Graduate PLUS, is that the former is guaranteed without respect to a student’s credit history. He or she must simply be in good standing with his or her student loans. The later requires a positive credit history. Beyond loans, assistantships and fellowships are excellent resources for graduate students. An assistantship usually involves giving time back to your department in the form of student teaching, often called TAs. You may be asked to teach a discussion class, or a lab class in support of the lecture class given by the professor. Your expertise as a graduate student will help you field questions from the undergraduate students. In exchange for your time as a teaching assistant you may receive a complete or a partial tuition waiver and/or a stipend for living expenses.
Common in the sciences is the fellowship, which is very similar to an assistantship except that much of your time is spent doing research under the direction of a faculty member or members. Similarly, your tuition may be partly or fully waiver and you may recieve stipend money for your living expenses. Finding assistantships and fellowships may be as easy as contacting your institution directly.
The office of graduate studies at any Doctoral or Master’s granting institution can direct you more specifically to their own resources. Outside funding is also available from goverment organizations.
The U.S. NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION (NSF) sponsors graduate students, as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE (DoD) and the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE. Private organizations can be accessed with an internet search. Hits will include the MORRIS K. UDALL FOUNDATION, the JACK KENT COOKE FOUNDATION, and the WOODROW WILSON NATIONAL FELLOWSHIP FOUNDATION to name a few.