Graduate School: are loans need based?

@kelsmom I am new here but see you are extremely knowledgeable! I hope you (or someone) can help. I greatly appreciate it in advance!

I am going for my second Masters.

I am legally married / filed married/jointly on last return but was advised to file FAFSA as separate as spouse lives in separate household and will NOT contribute to grad school. We will eventually divorce. I am currently unemployed (I am stay at home parent of small child).

I am curious: as someone seeking loans for grad school - is need even taken into consideration for these loans?

When is need taken into account?

Should I bother filing Fafsa as separate and then report untaxed contribution (from family/legal spouse)? I worry I will get this number wrong.

Do I need to report things (property taxes, bills, etc) not in my name?

Or better to keep it more simple and file with spouses’ assets?

I am very confused! Thank you!

I’m not @kelsmom but grad students can take grad plus loans up to a certain amount per year. These are not dependent on need…available to all grad students.

Now….is it advisable to fully find your grad school costs with loans? Think about that before you do it.

I will respond to your question about filing first: Please read this explanation & answer the FAFSA marital status question based on your situation.

If you consider yourselves separated, and if your spouse supports you, any money your spouse gives you, as well as any bills that are in your name and paid by your spouse, must be reported as gifts.

Now, will it make a difference? Possibly not, depending on what financial aid is available through the school. Federal aid at the graduate level is limited to unsubsidized loans & Grad Plus loans; both require FAFSA but neither is based on need. You might be eligible for some Federal Work Study, which is need based. The school might offer some need-based institutional grants, but many grad programs don’t offer this to grad students. If they offer funded programs, need doesn’t usually come into play.

My advice is to file the FAFSA based on your honest assessment of your marital situation. Then talk to the school (s) about financial aid so that you know what your real costs might be. Don’t jump into a huge financial commitment without truly understanding the real costs.


And to add to Kelsmom’s fine and expert advice- don’t jump into a huge financial commitment without truly understanding your exit strategy- which courses you will take when, what the sequence is, how many semesters it will take you to get your degree, what kinds of jobs you will be able to get and how much they pay, will they require relocating and are you prepared to move where those jobs are.

The second Master’s doesn’t always get you where you want to go… and if you’ve borrowed to get it, you could be looking at a world of pain for decades…

Good luck.


You don’t say what this second masters is in. Is it really essential to get to move forward career wise? Are you changing careers?


I truly appreciate everyone’s reply and advice. I also understand your sage advice regarding the risk of taking on loans. This MA is necessary for the career change. The first was in a related field but not one I want to pursue. The job prospects are good! But yes, I will have loan payments for a long time. I do not have any other student loans, though. So I am hopeful I will be able to handle them as I will definitely be employed with this degree.

Thank you all, so much, again!

Make sure you can’t pivot with just a certificate and not a full blown Master’s. I just interviewed someone who went back to school for an MBA (usually a fine investment even accounting for lost wages/opportunity costs) and the role he was interviewing for only required a CFA (which is a self-study, three part exam leading to certification with no need to give up your job). There are lots of these non-degree certifications in various fields- definitely a cheaper way to go unless there’s a statutory requirement on the actual degree. Especially if you already have a Master’s in a somewhat related field- worth exploring the “alternative pathways” in your area of interest- many professions have those now.

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Very excellent point. Thank you for the advice. While I do not think it is possible, I will look deeper into this!