T he FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a free online form that is filled out each year by prospective, as well as current college students at any level of their education. This form is submitted to the Federal Government and is used to determine the amount of financial aid they are able to receive. In order to possibly qualify for federal aid, every student must fill out the FAFSA each year.

Why the FAFSA is Important

Neglecting to fill out the form, which takes about 15 minutes, can cause you to miss out on federal monies for your continuing education. Once the FAFSA is successfully filled out and you have uploaded your tax return from the previous year, you will get a notice about the aid you qualify for and the specific types of federal aid you will receive.

More than likely, if you have been through your undergraduate years, you have filled out the FAFSA. If you are planning on continuing your studies in graduate school, the FAFSA is still there for you! Although it is handled a little differently for graduate students, it is quite the asset for many, and can possibly help you fund your masters or doctorate degree.

Graduate Students and Federal Aid

There are some differences with graduate students in terms of federal financial aid. First off, most graduate students are considered independent students. You were probably a dependent of your parents when you were an undergraduate, and moving up to independent status means that your parents’ financial status and information is no longer considered in order for you to have your aid calculated. If you are married, however, you will need to report your spouse’s financial information on the FAFSA.

More than 18 million people filled out the FAFSA in 2015 and more than half were eligible for Pell Grants.

Although federal subsidized loans are not an option with graduate students, when filling out the FAFSA you may discover that you qualify for a variety of federal student financial aid. These forms of aid include:

William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program

Many students apply for a private student loan as a last resort, as a student loan of this type is not administered by the government and typically has a higher interest rate. Although it is an option, it is recommended to exhaust all other financial resources before applying and accepting a private loan. One advantage of a private student loan is that there is a wide variety of loan companies that grant private student loans. It is important to research lenders before taking the leap of this financial responsibility.

Federal Perkins Loan

If you show exceptional financial need, you may qualify for a Federal Perkins Loan. It is administered by the school, and you can receive up to $8,000 for your educational expenses.

TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) Grant

This is a grant program that may be given to you if you are seeking a higher degree in education. There are stipulations to this grant, such as the requirement of taking specific coursework and landing a specific type of teaching job afterwards. You may qualify for $4,000 to help with your studies; however, if the stipulations are not followed, this grant will turn into an unsubsidized loan that will need to be repaid.

Federal Work Study

Federal Work Study is a great opportunity for those who need extra money while in college. Once you qualify for a set amount, you will be required to work a specific job for a paycheck up to the set amount you have been granted.

Federal Pell Grant

This is a grant that does not need to be repaid and can be given to you if you are enrolled in a graduate or professional teaching program. The amount of money received varies from year to year.

In terms of advantages for becoming a graduate or professional student, your financial aid amounts are significantly increased to help with the higher cost of graduate classes. Federal loans can be a great asset to you if you don’t have the up-front funds to pay for your higher education. Of course, all loans need to be repaid, and this can be a disadvantage. However, the significant responsibility of repayment of these loans may be worth it in order to achieve your dream of a graduate or doctorate degree.