I Work & have Income: Can I Still Qualify for Financial Aid?

Sage Crary
Sage Crary
Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships; pursuing an MS in Ethics and Religion
Paper reading ‘Financial Aid Eligibility’ on a table next to a pen and keyboard.

I Work Full-Time. Do I Qualify for Financial Aid?

Federal financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students is very different. At the undergraduate level, many types of financial are need-based. This means that in order to qualify you must be below certain income thresholds. However, at the graduate level this is rarely the case. Almost all funds you can qualify for regardless of how much money you make.

The Federal Student Aid programs for graduate students are, by and large, for any student regardless of income or assets. This means that whether you are unemployed or working full-time when you apply for financial aid, you will often qualify for the same types and amounts of aid as most other students in your program.

What Kinds of Financial Aid for Graduate School are Available?

The main types of federal financial aid for graduate students are Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Graduate PLUS Loans, and (in some cases) Federal TEACH Grants. All three of these you can receive regardless of your income.

Direct Unsubsidized Loans

Federal Unsubsidized Loans are the most common type of federal financial aid for graduate students. These are non-need-based loans from the Federal Government and simply require you to submit your FAFSA to determine your eligibility. The FAFSA is your application for federal student aid and is available online or on the ‘myStudentAid’ app on your mobile device.

As long as you meet basic eligibility criteria (such as having a valid Social Security Number, be a US Citizen or Eligible Non-Citizen and not currently in default on any other federal student loans, for example) you can qualify for up to $20,500 a year in a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

This loan does accrue interest while you are enrolled in your program but does not require payments while you are enrolled at least half-time in a degree program. The unsubsidized loan is one of the best options there is for financing a graduate degree as the interest rate, repayment terms, and eligibility criteria are the most flexible.

Graduate PLUS Loans

Federal Graduate PLUS Loans are the next most common type of federal financial aid program for graduate students and are also not need-based. These loans require you to submit a FAFSA and meet the same basic financial aid qualifications as a Direct Unsubsidized Loan, but these also do require a basic credit evaluation.

Graduate PLUS Loans have much more forgiving credit criteria than most (if not all) private alternative loans. They simply require the ‘absence of negative credit history’ and do not require any sort of income level or debt-to-income ratios like all other loans require. An absence of negative credit history is defined as not being delinquent or in default on any current financial obligations.

So, even if your credit score is not what you want it to be, as long as you are not currently behind on your financial obligations you should still be able to qualify for a Graduate PLUS Loan. These loans can be for any amount (up to the cost of attendance for the college or university of your choosing) and also do not require any payments while you remain in school.

Federal TEACH Grants

The last most common type of non-need-based federal financial aid is the Federal TEACH Grant. The Federal TEACH Grant is for students who are looking to teach in a low-income district or high-need subject area and commit to teaching for at least four of the following eight years after graduating in a qualifying position and school district.

This is one of the only types of federal grants that does not have any income level requirement, and any student can qualify for it regardless of current salary or financial status. It is important to note, though, that if you do not fulfill the required teaching obligations after graduation that your TEACH Grant will be converted into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan at that time.

Regardless of your current income situation, there are a large variety of Federal Student Aid programs for grad school students that can help make pursuing your graduate degree affordable.

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