I got into grad school. It is expensive. Help.
February 28, 2009 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Please explain to me how financial aid for graduate school works, and thus help me navigate how I am going to pay for this.

I was just accepted to U Penn's MCP program for fall 2009. Yay! (I haven't heard from other schools yet, so this isn't a U Penn-specific question, however). They told me that my financial aid package will be in the mail soon. I filled out a FAFSA a few weeks ago, and my estimated family contribution was about three times the amount of my total savings. Am I correct in assuming that (Tuition) - (EFC) = (the amount of need-based aid I can get)? If so, what do I do to pay for the rest? Do I have to wait until I know how much aid I'll be getting before I start the process of applying for, I guess, private loans? Why is my EFC so high (I didn't give it parental data, and I do save a fair amount of the not-that-much money I make)? Will my EFC change next year, since I won't have the job I currently have? Are most people able to realistically meet their EFC?

I am a complete financial aid neophyte, as I was fortunate enough to have a scholarship and parental support as an undergrad. I am so daunted and confused by this process. I imagine it will seem easier and less nonsensical once I know for sure where I'm going and how much federal aid I'll get, and I sit down with someone at a school and have it explained to me, but can anyone help me out a bit now? I feel like I've read everything the internet has to offer on this, and my head is swimming.
posted by millipede to Education (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm about to fill out my FAFSA for my second year of part-time grad school, and from what I remember about the first year, they estimated by EFC as about half of my yearly salary which was impossible (I live in NYC and am paying for grad school all by myself). I have a small scholarship (1/8 of the total cost ). I've been able to get loans to cover every penny and I could take a living allowance on top of that. About 75% of what I'm offered is government subsidized.

I've accepted loans (subsidized up to the annual limit, unsubsidized after that) for all of my tuition costs with no living allowance. I anticipate the same thing for this year.

So, um...I think you'll be fine. The amount they offer in loans and the amount I accepted are pretty drastically different, and I'm not contributing any of my own money yet. I think the EFC takes living expenses into account, which would make sense, but I'm not sure. I hope that helps!
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:09 AM on February 28, 2009

Heh, good luck. It ain't easy. I'm in a doctoral program and signed up for Graduate Assistantships until I got a job. GAs don't pay much- we get $1,200 a month which in Vegas is very little. You may want to look into the various GA opportunities in your department and in related departments. I'm in Sociology but I could conceivably be awarded a GA in psychology or women's studies, for example. Your student loan will be affected by the amount of GA money you receive, but you'll still be fine.

Also there are grants for students who fit certain criteria, such a gender, military, disability, country of origin, ethnicity, etc. It's best to take out the fewest loans possible!
posted by Piscean at 8:20 AM on February 28, 2009

I know very few people who were able to make their EFC in cash. Yes, your EFC will be adjusted next year when you're not making any money.

Wait until you get your financial aid package--it will say in there how much you have access to in stafford loans. If you need loans to make up the remainder of your tuition after grants and other financial aid, it's better if you can get stafford loans than private loans (better interest rates). What's more, subsidized stafford loans--where the government pays your interest while you're in school--are even better.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:58 AM on February 28, 2009

Did you apply for any graduate fellowships? Many of the deadlines have already passed, but there are still open competitions. For example, those from the American Planning Association are due April 30. Those are just $1k - $5k, but there are larger ones out there, although they're likely to have earlier deadlines. (NSF, EPA, etc).
posted by clerestory at 9:23 AM on February 28, 2009

I'd say you should wait for the package. My experience with Penn (I did my B.A. there) tells me that financial aid and stipends can be all over the place. If you're teaching (sorry, I don't know what a MCP), there's a minimum stipend which is quite generous (around 22k per year).

posted by singerdj at 10:07 AM on February 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your EFC is supposed to be met by loans in many professional schools. Make sure you can pay the loans back on your expected post-graduate salary. Just because you can get the loans and the school will let you in doesn't mean you're not going to be in for a world of hurt after you graduate and face huge monthly debt payments.
posted by footnote at 1:26 PM on February 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

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