Grad Students Left Out in the Cold

One group that seems to have been left out of the conversation about rising tuition and cuts in financial aid is grad students. Recently, many prospective graduate candidates are being asked whether receiving financial aid will make a difference in their choices to attend.

While many such students would like to pursue a graduate degree regardless of financial aid, the reality is that today’s cost of attending makes such a decision unfeasible for many.

According to interviews with students at Texas A & M University, the availability of financial aid makes a big difference in students’ decisions whether to pursue degrees beyond their BAs. “A part of me wanted to say ‘Yes, I will still attend even if I do not receive aid’ but I didn’t want that to backfire and cause me not to receive any scholarships or grants due to my response,” said Teri Wilkerson, a senior human performance major.

Such uncertainty about financial aid and paying for grad school has resulted in a “frenzy” among undergraduate upper class members who are considering grad school.

Senior criminal justice major Monique Williams said, “Hopefully I will receive a pretty good scholarship but I will need a loan to cover the rest of the expenses. My graduate school of choice offers scholarships based on my academic performance and other application requirements, but if I cannot cover the rest of the expenses because they don’t think I need it then I will have to turn down the offer. I wonder if I could have received more funding by answering those questions differently.”

Though financial aid comes in many different forms, graduate students are withheld from certain types of aid due to recent legislative changes by the U.S. Department of Education effective July 2012. Graduate and professional students are no longer eligible to receive subsidized loans. However, graduate and professional students may still qualify for up to $20,500 in unsubsidized loans each year.

Some students might have a problem with the unsubsidized loan cap per year which may cause them to search for other options of financial aid or consequently not attend their graduate program of choice. This fact may explain the reasoning behind the financial aid questions during the application process.

Graduate school programs want to recruit top talent and reward these students for their performance as an incentive to attend their program. Additionally, these programs do not want to overspend on students who do not have the funds to attend.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, graduate and professional degree students are now borrowing more than ever to attend their respective programs and complete their degrees. They have recognized the investment that it takes to receive a post-grad degree but it may put a strain on the government and accordingly the universities who are expected to assist in funding each student’s investment.

The true reasoning behind the questions on the application is still unclear, but it is a concrete fact over 70 percent of post-graduate students receive some type of aid to fund their degrees and certificates all of which from federal, state, institutional, or private sources.


  1. In some fields, you should not go to grad school if it can’t be paid for – especially technical fields like engineering.

    Most employers offer some sort of tuition reimbursement option or if you have good grades, schools will recruit you for their graduate programs. People who decide to pay for grad school should look for ways for others to pay for them.

  2. When we talk about grad students, are we talking primarily about individuals who are moving from undergrad to grad without entering the working world? Is it more beneficial at this point to go to work and then work towards a grad degree on a part-time basis so that we can take advantage of other opportunities (like employee reimbursement, etc)?

    • In my opinion, it makes more sense to get some cash flow as you suggest, and go part time rather than burying yourself in grad school debt. Thanks for reading!

  3. The gap between cost of student debt and ability to pay that debt is growing. This is a problem for individuals and the economy because when job prospects are dimmer as education costs rise, the opportunity cost of not attending traditional education programs becomes more notable for prospective students.

    For the economy, when the educated workforce or potential labor pool shrinks, business competitiveness and average income per capita are often negatively affected. For example, if business innovation subsides, the prospect of creating new multinational power houses such as Google also declines because the talent pool becomes challenged.

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