Graduate Students

Preparing for graduate school

Choosing a graduate program is a decision that affects you for a lifetime, but even before you enroll, you need to consider some key financial elements.

Sacrifice – you will need to spend time, energy, and money on your graduate education, often foregoing other activities and expenditures.  Consider whether you can adjust your living arrangements to accomodate the prescribed budgets for living expenses and the lack of available time to work and earn.  Remember that financial aid does not cover the same life choices that a full time job will allow!

Save – your savings and credit choices today could affect your ability to finance your graduate education.  A poor credit record could compromise your ability to borrow while in school.  A lack of savings leaves you unprepared for unexpected expenses and emergencies.

Seek financial aid by filing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) each year and by contacting your college or department for funding, but also check local foundations, scholarship searches, military programs, and other organizations you belong to as all of these may be a source of funding.  Some sources require applications months before your actual enrollment.

Solicit help from professionals at your school, and don't assume that funding graduate school will be similar to your undergraduate experience. Financial aid for graduate students generally involves more loan and less grant money than for undergraduates.

Strategize based on who you are today, what your life situation is, and how much you must have to live and support yourself and your family. Repair your credit and reduce your debt. Financial aid rarely covers the full cost of supporting a spouse or children, of paying a mortgage, or purchasing or maintaining a car.

Special status

Not all graduate student programs are created equal. If you fall into one of these special categories, you may be ineligible for aid or have your aid reduced:

Students who are provisionally admitted or dual enrolled may be ineligible or have limited eligibility.

Doctoral students who have completed their comprehensive exams and have been coded by their department as being in the dissertation phase of their program (code DD in SIS) will have their financial aid budgets adjusted to ACTUAL tuition costs as opposed to AVERAGE tuition costs. This may result in reduced financial aid eligibility.

Sources of assistance

Federal and MSU need-based aid

Graduate students who are US Citizens or Permanent Residents may apply for federal and MSU need-based loans and grants by filing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). See Types of Aid for programs available.


Fellowships are financial resources that do not have to be repaid. They are generally granted based on academic excellence, but some also have need components. Michigan State University supplies funding for several different types of fellowships including travel and emergencies.  Contact your department for information.


Assistantships are awarded through individual departments, although there are also some available through administrative offices such as Residence Life. The work can be either as a teaching assistant (TA) or a research assistant (RA). More than 3000 graduate students hold assistantships at MSU.

To qualify, you must be in a graduate degree program and make satisfactory academic progress. A 3.0 grade point average is the minimum requirement, though it is higher in some departments or colleges.

Benefits include a stipend (monthly paycheck), tuition waiver of 9 credits per semester (fall and spring), and health insurance. Matriculation and Infrastructure fees are also waived.

If you received an award package as a regular grad student prior to receiving an assistantship, your package may have included more aid than you're actually entitled to and would therefore need to be reduced. MSU is required to follow federal rules in the awarding of aid and MUST reduce certain types of aid if you originally had a regular graduate budget and now have a graduate assistantship. This is because we may only cover your actual costs. While it may seem that something is being taken away from you when we your adjust your award package, it is actually being replaced by the benefit of free tuition.