The largest source of financial aid in the U.S.A. is the government. Government financial aid takes many forms: grants, work-study, and loans.
Because the cost-per-credit for a graduate degree is usually higher than for your B.A. or B.S., this aid can make the difference between attending and not attending graduate school.
Just like when you were looking for undergraduate aid, you'll need to fill out a FAFSA form to be eligible for financial aid from the government.
What you need when requesting government financial aid
To qualify for government financial aid, you must:
- Be a citizen of the U.S.A. or be an eligible non-citizen
- Have a valid Social Security Number
- Have completed the FAFSA
- Be accepted or enrolled in a graduate program
- If required, be registered with the Selective Service
- Maintain good academic performance
- Not have been convicted of a drug offense
- Not have been convicted or pled guilty to a fraud crime related to federal funds
- Not have received a loan fraudulently
- Be up-to-date on paying back previously awarded federal loans
- Not have a federal lien on your property
- Not be a medical intern
- Not be in a penitentiary when you are supposed to receive the loan
Financial aid from the government
Federal Stafford Loans (Subsidized)
Stafford loans are low-interest loans that borrowers receive directly from the U.S. Department of Education. With subsidized Stafford loans, you are not charged interest while in school at least half-time and during grace and deferment periods.
The amount you can borrow is determined by the school and is based on a host of factors, including whether you are a dependent or independent student.
Here's the kicker: under some conditions (related to service to the community, like teaching in low-income school districts), the loan amount may be reduced or forgiven.
Federal Stafford Loans (Unsubsidized)
Like its subsidized sibling, the amount you can borrow with an unsubsidized Stafford loan is determined by the school. However, you do not need to demonstrate financial need to get an unsubsidized loan.
Another big difference from the subsidized version: With an unsubsidized loan, interest accumulates from day 1. You will have the opportunity to pay the interest as it accrues or it can just become part of the principal amount that you'll have to repay following your education.
Federal Perkins Loan
The Federal Perkins Loan is meant for students with "exceptional" financial need. This low-interest loan is granted by the school, but financed with government funds. When you repay the loan, you'll be sending money to the school.
Not all schools participate in the Perkins Loan program, so check with the school's financial aid office.
Federal work-study is a great program for a number of reasons. First, you're out in the world gaining much-needed experience in either a position related to your field of study or in community service. Because you'll most likely need to interview for the position, you'll boost your skills there, too. And, unlike a loan, the money you earn from a work-study program won't need to be paid back.
You'll be paid at least minimum wage, with the government paying about ¾ and the school paying the rest. At the school's discretion, work can be performed either on or off campus.
TEACH Grant Program
The TEACH Grant program allows you to receive up to $4,000 per year if you agree to spend 4 years teaching full-time - in a high-need field - in a low-income school district. You can teach non-consecutive years, but must complete all 4 years of teaching within 8 years of graduating.
The grant does not have to be repaid, but if you are unable to fulfill your teaching requirements, the grant converts into an unsubsidized Stafford Loan. The loan does have to be repaid.
High-need fields include:
- Foreign language
- Reading specialist
- Bilingual education and English language acquisition
- Special education
- Other fields that are identified on a timely basis