Differences Between Graduate and Undergraduate Financial Aid

Sage Crary
Sage Crary
Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships, pursuing an MS in Ethics and Religion

Although graduate and undergraduate financial aid might seem like similar topics to the uninitiated, the two subjects actually couldn’t be more different.

At the undergraduate level, financial aid is primarily based on the income of you and your parents. At the graduate level, income plays essentially no role in what you may be eligible for. Additionally, your FAFSA (the application for Federal Financial Aid) doesn’t even include your parent’s information anymore.

Undergraduate Financial Aid

Undergraduate financial aid focuses primarily on “Need-based” programs and a plethora of grants and scholarships whose primary criteria is your family’s income. Some of these programs might include things like the Federal Pell Grant, or the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) and many types of state and private grants. Additionally, because most undergraduate students attend college full time and take part in many types of campus services (such as housing, meal plans, student government and organizations, etc.) the costs for an undergraduate program are very different than that of a graduate program. Typically, the overall costs of completing your bachelor’s degree are significantly more expensive than completing your master’s degree (the exception are things like a law or medical degree, or similar professional-level graduate programs).

Graduate School Financial Aid

Meanwhile, at the graduate level, most financial aid programs don’t require any particular income or financial need. This is mostly because there are relatively few grant and scholarship programs in comparison to undergraduate degree programs. However, there are many positive parts to graduate financial aid. First of all, at the undergraduate level, the loan limits and ability to finance your degree are highly limited. At the graduate level, however, you will have the ability to fund your program in full through both Federal Unsubsidized Loans and Federal Graduate PLUS loans. This means you will not need to make payments toward your bill (unless you want to). Additionally, the costs tend to be lower, as most graduate program are for working adults who are going to school part time. This means that for most students, the costs of going to graduate school and the financial aid process are much easier and provide greater flexibility than at the undergraduate level.

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