The Catholic University of America


Applying for Graduate Financial Aid

Many undergraduate students, some as early as their junior year, give serious consideration to attending graduate school immediately after graduation. There are also those who have earned a bachelor's degree, worked for a number of years, and then decide to go to graduate school for professional advancement or personal enrichment. Whatever their reason, once the decision has been made, applicants find themselves immersed in a lengthy and demanding process. It includes completing a variety of application forms, obtaining reference letters, writing personal statements, taking standardized examinations and submitting all these in accordance with specified deadlines.

Students get so involved in the admission application process that they often do not devote sufficient time to applying for financial aid. Given the spiraling cost of graduate education, not to mention the loan indebtedness of many college graduates, it is wise to devote a healthy portion of time researching the different types of financial aid available.

Sources of financial aid can be categorized as internal and external. Internal financial aid is university-based assistance. External financial aid is from outside sources such as government organizations and private institutions. The following is an explanation of these graduate financial aid programs.

Internal Sources

Internal aid is usually in the form of fellowships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships. These are administered either through the graduate dean's office or the specific department in which the student is enrolled, and are subject to the availability of funds.

Fellowships are financial awards that require no service in return. They provide the cost of the tuition and fees plus a stipend to cover living expenses. Fellowships vary in the number of years of study they will cover, so students should not assume they will receive their awards throughout their graduate studies.

Assistantships require recipients to perform a service for the university in exchange for a salary or stipend. In many cases tuition is also provided or waived. There are three types of assistantships: teaching, research, and administrative. Teaching assistantships require students to teach an undergraduate course in their department. Research assistantships require students to assist in the research activities of a faculty member within an agreed upon number of weekly hours. Administrative assistantships require 10 to 20 hours of work each week in an administrative office of the university, such as residence life, athletics, and student activities.

Information about fellowships, teaching assistantships, and research assistantships may be acquired from the department or school to which you are applying. Information about administrative assistantships may also be obtained directly from the department to which you are applying.

All of these awards are based chiefly on the student's academic qualifications. (Financial need is only occasionally a consideration.) The two most important measures are the student's grade point average and graduate admissions test scores. Faculty recommendations and one's personal statement are also taken into account. For fellowships and assistantships, an interview with the department will play a significant role in the decision.

Typically, fellowships and assistantships are awarded when students first enter their program. Responsibility for these awards is often in the hands of individual departments. Concerned about losing good candidates, they often make financial aid offers to the first to be accepted, rather than waiting for the entire pool of applicants. Therefore, candidates submitting their applications early tend to have a better chance of receiving such aid. However, it is not unusual for students to obtain such aid at a later stage in their studies. That is, funds freed through graduation or unanticipated departure of current aid recipients is awarded to students who have demonstrated superior performance.

On-campus jobs are also a good source of supplemental income. Another means of funding is employee tuition remission. At most universities employees are allowed to take one or two courses free of charge each semester, but not until after having worked a certain period of time.

External Sources

There are many private institutions, non-profit organizations, associations, and foundations that provide funds for graduate studies. This aid can be in several forms, including fellowships, grants, internships/traineeships, and loans. For example, private companies may offer fellowships for employees and their children, or to any qualified graduate student who is specializing in a field related to their business. There are organizations that provide support for minority groups.

Aside from the private sector, funding is also available from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, U.S. Office of Naval Research, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Education, and Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Information Agency.

Every year millions of dollars of external funds go un-awarded because students are not aware that they are available! As an in-coming or current graduate student, take some time to research possible external financial aid and to apply for these funds even if you have applied for university-based assistance.


Many students consider loans when the above sources are unavailable or when they feel that the aid they will be receiving is insufficient to cover their living expenses. There are two types of loans: those based on your financial need, and those which are provided independent of your need. Loans based on need are Subsidized Federal Stafford Loans, formerly known as Guaranteed Student Loans.

The Subsidized Federal Stafford Loan can provide up to $8,500/year at an interest rate lower than one would get at a bank. (This program is currently being reviewed and will most likely change in 1996-97.) The payments are deferred until after graduation. The student must be either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. As of 1995, the total amount one can borrow is $65,500, which includes any Stafford funds borrowed during the undergraduate education on or after January 1, 1987.

To apply for these loans, the student must complete a need analysis form. At CUA the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is used. It assists the financial aid officer in assessing your need, based on the information about your income (most recent tax year), assets, and savings. Other universities may require the FAFSA along with the Financial Aid Form (FAF). Because requirements differ from school to school, you should check with each to which you are applying to make certain you are fulfilling their application requirements. In any event, these forms must be renewed annually.

There is also a non-need based loan, the Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loan. This loan can provide $10,000 per year to a maximum of $73,000, including those used in the undergraduate education. The interest rate attached to this loan ranges from 7% to a ceiling of 8.25%. This loan allows students to defer principal payments but requires them to begin payment on the interest.

Finally, there is an alternative loan program from NELLIE MAE named GradEXCEL. It is for families who may be ineligible for federal financial aid or need additional funds to pay higher education costs. A graduate student can borrow on his or her own from $2,000 to $7,500 a year, or up to $20,000 a year if you borrow with an eligible creditworthy co-borrower. (Law students can borrow $12,000 per year on their own). Cumulative borrowing maximums range from $90,000 for medical students to $25,000. Such debt limits may not apply to students who apply with a co-borrower. There are no upper income limits. To qualify you must be a graduate or professional student attending an accredited degree-granting college or university in the U.S. You do not need to have a credit history, but if you have borrowed in the past, you must have a satisfactory credit history indicating no delinquencies. NELLIE MAE also states that at least one borrower must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible permanent resident with a U.S. Social Security number. There are three repayment options: (1) all payments deferred until after graduation; (2) payment of interest alone while enrolled; or (3) principal and interest paid while in school. In the last two cases, payments begin 45 days after the loan is disbursed. The complete repayment period ranges from 4 to 20 years, depending on the amount borrowed. Information about the GradEXCEL program may be obtained from CUA's Financial Aid Office. You can also call 1-800-634-9308.

Applying for Financial Aid at CUA

There are important dates to remember when applying for financial aid at the Catholic University of America. The deadline for fellowship applications for the next academic year is February 1. There is no application deadline for assistantships but students are advised to inquire about them as early as possible. If these are not available at the time they first applied they are also advised to try in the following semesters, for assistantships are sometimes vacated in the middle of the school year.

Information about fellowships can be found in the University catalog. It is also advisable to talk with the graduate financial aid officer, who is more than willing to help you with your application. The phone number is 319-5185.

As noted, the CUA Financial Aid Office requires the FAFSA. A Financial Aid Transcript is also needed from loan applicants, and this can be acquired from the applicant's former school(s). The transcript is required even if you did not procure a loan during your undergraduate study. It is recommended that loan applications be turned in to the Financial Aid Office by the end of March so that they may be able to reply to applicants as soon as possible.

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