How to File the FAFSA for Grad School

Sarah Reese
Apr 27, 2021

You've filed the FAFSA for undergrad, but what about for grad school? You should know there are a few differences that need to be considered when filing the FAFSA for grad school.  We don't want you to miss anything, so we are walking you through the process.  


Gathering the necessary information to correctly fill out the FAFSA can be tedious, but it is well worth doing because it can open the doors to financing and help students fund their education.  We will outline the most important differences between applying as a graduate student versus as an undergraduate and how to properly file the FAFSA as a graduate student.  


The more you know: How is Federal Student Aid Calculated?  


First things first, get organized

Before sitting down to file the FAFSA application it is important to know when submission dates are.   FAFSA release dates are usually on October 1st of the year before the intended semester start date and remain open until the end of June.

For example: The release date for students filing for graduate school that starts in September 2021 is October 1, 2020.  Because applications are accepted on a rolling basis, it is crucial to submit your FAFSA form as early as possible to maximize your eligibility for student aid.  


Major differences between filing FAFSA for undergrad vs. grad school

1.  Independence

As mentioned above, there are some differences when filing the FAFSA as a graduate student.   The main difference is the majority of graduate students are considered independent from their parents, meaning they are not usually required to provide their parents’ information.

However, some students applying to medical or law school will need to provide parent information even as independents, so students should double-check with the school they plan to attend before starting the FAFSA documents.  Additionally, students who are married will have to report their spouse’s income and asset information as part of their application.

overhead of keyboard coffee and planner for organizing

2.  Eligibility for subsidized loans

Another important difference when filing the FAFSA for a graduate-level program is eligibility for subsidized loans. Students working towards professional and graduate degrees can only apply for unsubsidized loans.   This means interest begins to accrue the moment a loan is taken out.  

Subsidized loans are typically awarded based on financial need, versus unsubsidized loans which can come from any income bracket and do not accrue interest while the student is in school.  


3. You typically don't have to fill out the dependency section

Once a student’s personal information has been entered online, they will be asked to choose an application based on the year they plan to attend the graduate program. The next section is not necessary for most students because it is focused on dependency status and parent demographics, and as mentioned earlier in this article, most graduate-level students are considered independent.  

Following the dependency section is the financial section, which focuses on tax, mortgage, and investment information.   Filling out this section is at the discretion of the applicant and based on if they filed their taxes and have the information or need to submit it at a later date.  

Once all sections are complete, the student can sign and submit their application.  Once it has been processed the student will receive a Student Aid Report.  Any person who completes the FAFSA should carefully review their Student Aid Report to ensure all information is accurate before it is formally reviewed.  


Benefitting from filing as an undergraduate

As undergraduates, most students have already filled out the FAFSA so the process should seem relatively familiar.  First, students must have an FSA (Federal Student Aid) ID, which can be obtained online via the Federal Student Aid website or in person at most libraries and educational institutes.  

Before beginning the application, students should have their valid driver’s license (or other identification if they do not drive) and a copy of their social security number ready to enter online.

Students will also need a list of any schools they plan to attend; even if they haven’t applied or been accepted they will need to list any potential options as part of their FAFSA application.  


Business as usual

At this point in the process, it becomes the same as an undergraduate applicant.  The Expected Family Contribution and finalized Student Aid Report is sent to all of the colleges listed on the application to determine funding offers.  

Both graduate and undergraduate students should follow up with individual financial aid offices of the colleges they have been accepted to, to investigate any potential funding offers.  



Filing the FAFSA for graduate and professional schools is relatively simple and very similar to that of filing for undergraduate programs, with some notable differences.  As with any college application, it is always helpful for students to have the necessary documentation before beginning the process.  

Finding proper financial aid is one of the most important aspects of funding a post-secondary education, so it is imperative that students of all levels prepare and ensure their documents have been filed without errors.