The Ultimate Grad School FAFSA Guide (How to File & Apply)

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 3/02/20

Congratulations on earning your bachelor’s degree and deciding to continue your education by attending graduate school. You will discover a rich world in academia as you set forth on your journey to obtaining a graduate degree, regardless of your chosen major. But first things first: You need to get your finances in order before you can start your grad school experience.

You should already be familiar with the upcoming challenge if you are among the majority that needed to file a FAFSA repeatedly throughout your undergraduate years. If not, this guide will tell you everything you need to know to fill it out properly.

What Documents Do You Need for the FAFSA form?

The requirements for a postgraduate FAFSA application are the exact same as they are for undergraduate studies. You will still need your tax returns from the two years prior to the upcoming academic year: For instance, you will need 2018’s tax returns for the 2020–2021 academic year.

The most significant difference is the amount of funding available to you as a professional student. During your undergraduate years, you likely would have gained experience dealing with the Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loan program. There are strict income requirements for both of these loans and are the most common ways for students to obtain funding for their college experience.

You will notice that another type of loan, the Direct Plus Loan, will be available to you. This program (in both the direct-to-student and parent variations) has exceptionally high maximum loan amounts and includes a couple of small changes compared to undergraduate loans. For example, these loans are not eligible for income-based repayment programs, unless you consolidate them into one larger loan.

Notes About Loans

It is our goal and mission to help you make the right decisions for financing your academic career. As such, it would be remiss of us to not take this time to “warn” you about taking out more loans than you strictly need. If you receive a federal student loan, you will be required to repay that loan with interest. In most federal loan cases, the loan will not begin to compound interest until the loan is in its repayment period. Most federal student loans have fees charged as a percentage of the total loan amount, which are fixed for the life of the loan. 

The amortization for these loans is often on 10 or 20-year time frames, meaning you will be paying vastly more than what you got in the form of loan disbursement which is a result of the interest your loan accrues. We strongly recommend that you apply for all scholarships that you qualify for and think about taking on part-time employment to make up for any shortfalls. After all, the last thing you want to be doing is paying down student loan debt when you are preparing to send children of your own to college.

Graduate School Deadlines

Graduate schools often have the same filing deadlines as their undergraduate equivalents. Make sure to check with your financial aid office to see when you need to submit your paperwork.

It is important to understand that the same rules apply here as they did during undergrad. Financial aid is available to students on a first-come-first-served basis, meaning that if you wait too long, you might not have many favorable options available to you.

It is strongly advised that you look at the earliest date they are willing to accept new applications and aim to have the paperwork in by then.

State and Federal Deadlines

If you are staying in the same state as your undergraduate degree, you will have no trouble with this step. However, if you move to another state, make sure to check the applicable date for submitting your FAFSA form.

There is just one thing you’ll have to remember: Accuracy is essential if you want to achieve the best possible outcome. Make sure that every entry is correct and that you have the required materials on hand to get your paperwork submitted as quickly as possible.

You can file amended paperwork without it impacting your “spot in line” eligibility. However, if you choose to add a new school to the list, then, for the new school at least, you will be at the back of the line. As such, make certain that you take the time now to figure out every detail in order to make this process go as smoothly as possible.

Handle Everything Electronically

The excuse “it’s in the mail” is no use when it comes to applying for financial aid, especially in a highly competitive environment where coveted opportunities may reach capacity in just a matter of hours.

As such, it’s a must to switch from a traditional paper FAFSA to the digital one available through the FSA portal. To use it, you will need to sign up for an FSA ID. This requires proving your identity.

After that, you will be able to do everything you could with a paper FAFSA, but with an hours-long turnaround time instead of weeks.

How to Find Scholarships

There are a wide variety of scholarships available to graduate students, regardless of their degree path. Here are some options to consider when seeking out scholarships for your postgraduate career:

Your School

Speak with your financial aid office to discover which scholarship options are available to you. Many schools offer scholarships for good performance, or for completing both your undergraduate and graduate programs at their institution. There is also the possibility that they will know of third-party scholarships you can apply for.

Industry Leaders

Check with the largest organizations and companies in your field of study to see if they offer scholarships. You will be amazed by the number of companies that dedicate a small portion of their yearly profits to supporting students in related fields.

Diversity Scholarships

Race, nationality, sexual orientation – all of these characteristics and more can be the basis for a scholarship application. Discover what makes you unique, and look for scholarships catered to that niche. For the best results, we suggest combining your search with a trip to your financial aid office. After all, they are there to help you get ahead of your tuition bill.

We recommend that you take the time before the start of every semester to look at what may be offered in your community. These scholarships are relatively new to the scene and more are being launched every year. Your best bet to finding these scholarships, after going to the financial aid office, would be to contact civil liberties groups dedicated to the particular minority group you belong to.

Local Scholarships

One of the greatest overlooked sources for financial aid is, and has been for years, scholarships offered to people within a specific geographic location. For instance, if you are from a Native American reservation there may be several offered by your tribe or local community that you qualify for.

Part of your financial aid office’s responsibilities lies in helping you find out what scholarships you may sign up for. Stop by after submitting your FAFSA to determine which ones you may qualify for. Just remember that no one is perfect and some may slip through the cracks. Take the time to look for local scholarships through web searches, visits to the local business association, and the town’s social media pages to see what is going on. 

This exercise may appear daunting at first, but it is ultimately a research task. By getting into graduate school you have proven yourself to be a capable researcher and advocate – use your talents and see what scholarships may be available to you.

An added benefit of this search isn’t a scholarship. By making yourself known to the local community you are placing yourself into a position to discover local sources of employment that can further your education, bolster your resume, and help form connections that will take you far in your post-collegiate-career.

Learn More

Discovering how to fund your postgraduate years the right way has never been easier. offers students the resources they need to make an informed decision. Visit our site to learn all about how to properly obtain financial aid, no matter if you are an undergraduate or postgraduate student. 

Our team brings years of experience in monitoring the ever-evolving world of student finance to the table, getting you the information you need to make decisions you will be proud of years down the line. Visit us today to get educated about your postgraduate financial options.