My daughter will graduate with a bachelor's degree in May and might go to graduate school. What type of financial aid is available for grad school? Does she fill out a FAFSA or something else?
- R.S.F., via the Internet
Financial aid for graduate school is different from what you've experienced so far.
For graduate programs, the student must apply for financial aid and fill out the complex Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the same form used to determine a family's ability to pay for undergraduate programs. But the similarities end there.
For undergraduates, colleges frequently give grants - free money - when parents can't afford to pay the full price. Graduate programs often are focused only on the students' finances, although some private colleges will hold back aid if a student comes from a wealthy family.
But rather than giving aid based on financial need, graduate program assistance tends to be based on the student's area of study.
For example, at the University of Minnesota, students studying technology and biology have been able to count on teaching assistant positions to cover their tuition. The admissions staff has assumed that each student would need such a position. In contrast, students in the humanities have had to fend more for themselves - taking out loans.
Graduate students fill out the FAFSA to qualify for Stafford loans - low-interest federal student loans. The limits for graduate school are much higher than for undergraduate degrees because people with advanced degrees generally make more money.
Although freshmen in college are allowed to borrow no more than $2,625 through the federal program, at the graduate level they can borrow up to $18,500.
Remember when considering loans, however, to evaluate your earning potential. It's one thing to have $100,000 in debt if you will be a doctor, and another if you will be a social worker. Try www.salary.com for a quick look at pay in your field.
I'm 50, with a BA in business management, and working in a medical center and not progressing. I've been accepted to a master's program in health care administration. But even the online curriculum will cost $25,000. My employer might help with part. Can you recommend where to seek grants and scholarships?
- B.S., Soldiers Grove, Wis.
Aid varies greatly among universities at the graduate program level.
I would not simply decide that the online program is your best financial bet. Call financial aid offices and health care programs at various universities to determine what they offer students. If you are willing to make a move to a distant program, you might be able to qualify for a teaching assistant job or grants. Don't rule out private institutions. They may have more money for scholarships than public universities.
Rathenia Hunter, a financial aid associate director at the University of Chicago, suggests that you search for affordable programs and speak with the graduate school financial aid office. Ask about the procedures for applying, the percentage of students who get aid, the percentage of aid that's likely, whether aid is based on need or merit, and whether the program has aid available for older students.
Some institutions offer scholarships for particular types of students, such as older students or members of various minority groups.
Next week: More questions about paying for college.
Messages for Gail MarksJarvis may also be left at 312-222-4264.