Federal Student Aid for US students
If you’re a US citizen, you may be able to receive financial aid from the government to help fund your studies. Generally, international students are not eligible to apply except in very specific circumstances.
You’ll also need to have financial need, but there is no income cut-off to qualify for financial aid. Rather, there are several factors considered when assessing your application.
Unlike undergraduate students, Masters and PhD applicants are considered independent for financial aid purposes, meaning only your own income and assets are taken into account, as opposed to your parents’.
The types of federal aid available for postgraduate students include:
#1 Federal loans
Loans available for Masters students include Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans.
For Direct Unsubsidized Loans, your university determines how much money you’re eligible to receive, up to an upper limit that depends on your personal circumstances. Find out more about Direct Unsubsidized Loan limits. Interest rates are currently set at 7.05% for the 2023-24 year.
Direct PLUS Loans don’t award a set amount. Instead, you can borrow up to the full cost of your Masters programme, minus any other forms of financial support you are receiving for it. Interest rates are set at 8.05% for the 2023-24 year.
To apply, you’ll need to be studying a course at 50% intensity or more (part-time programmes are eligible for direct plus loans, provided you study on a ‘half-time’ basis or greater). You’ll also need a good credit history to apply a Direct PLUS loan. You won’t normally be able to receive a Direct PLUS Loan if you have a record of credit default or overdue debt for existing loans. In some cases, a parent or other US citizen may endorse your application as a guarantor.
As a Masters student you won’t repay your loan until six months after you cease to be enrolled on your course. Note that this repayment period will normally still come into effect if you exit your graduate programme early.
Actual repayment plans vary, but you can view a set of guides from the US Department of Education.
Federal work study provides part-time jobs for US students who have financial need, to help them cover their living costs and tuition fees.
Roles can be on or off campus, and where possible related to your field of study. Off-campus jobs are generally for nonprofit organisations or public agencies, and must be performed in the public interest.
Postgraduate students may be paid by the hour or by salary, depending on the type of role performed. How many hours you’re allowed to work will be determined by your university’s financial aid office.
Federal work-study is generally not available for international students, but there are other ways to earn money alongside your studies. We cover this in our guide to working in the USA as a student.