Question: Are Graduate Certificate Programs Eligible for Federal Financial Aid?
Updated: February 15, 2023
Answer: Yes and No. Some graduate certificate programs are indeed eligible for federal financial aid, while others are not. Graduate certificate programs that are offered by accredited colleges and universities can submit to a financial aid review by the US Department of Education and receive approval for various types of federal financial assistance for qualified students, including Stafford Loans, Direct PLUS Loans for Graduate/Professional Students, Perkins Loans, and the Federal Work-Study assistance program. However, the approval process takes time and resources, and many schools do not submit all of their graduate certificate programs for approval, as certificate programs are relatively affordable compared to other graduate degree programs.
Colleges and universities commonly offer some graduate certificate programs for which students are eligible to receive federal loans, grants, scholarships, and/or work-study jobs, and other graduate certificate programs that are not approved for federal student assistance. In addition, a graduate certificate program in a particular field that is offered by one school may be approved for federal financial assistance, while programs in that same field that are offered by other schools may not have approval. It is thus advisable for graduate certificate program applicants who anticipate needing financial assistance to contact a program representative and/or a school’s financial aid office regarding financial aid options for specific graduate certificate programs prior to applying to a program.
Note: Lack of approval from the US Department of Education for federal financial aid is not typically and/or necessarily a reflection of the quality of a graduate certificate program or the school offering that program. Rather, this lack of approval is commonly due to the fact that the school in question has not submitted the program to the Department of Education for a financial aid review.
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The Federal Financial Aid Process for Graduate Certificate Students
In order to receive loans, grants, and other types of financial assistance from the federal government, students must establish that they are eligible for one or more of the federal programs that provide student aid. The primary mechanism for establishing eligibility is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a form on which students report taxed and untaxed income, as well as information on financial assets, such as money in savings and checking accounts, investments (e.g., stocks and bonds), and business and real estate holdings.
The FAFSA process establishes whether or not the individual applying for federal aid meets criteria for the various financial assistance programs run by the federal government. However, aid and assistance granted through a FAFSA application can only be applied toward academic and professional training programs that have approval from the US Department of Education. For this reason, it is advisable to research graduate certificate programs carefully in order to determine whether or not the program has established eligibility for federal aid programs and to contact a representative of the school offering the programs with any questions regarding financial aid eligibility.
It is important to note that there may also be specific conditions and or restrictions placed on how federal loans and grants may be used by students in graduate certificate programs that are approved for federal financial aid. For example, while full-time enrollment may not be required in order for a student in a graduate certificate program to receive federal aid, it is common for programs to require students to be enrolled in a minimum number of courses (two courses per 15-week semester is a common number) in order to maintain eligibility for financial assistance. Similarly, the use of federal student loans and grants is often restricted to courses that are required by a graduate certificate program and thus does not extend to additional elective coursework that a student opts to complete while earning a graduate certificate.
Eligibility of Graduate Certificate Programs for Financial Aid
According to Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, in order to qualify to participate in federal student financial aid, a graduate certificate program must meet particular requirements in terms of its curricular content and its duration of instruction. One of the primary requirements for a graduate certificate program to be eligible is that its coursework prepares students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation. Depending on the institution offering the graduate certificate program, different rules may apply.
For example, in general, a graduate certificate program needs to be at least one academic year in duration if it is offered at a public or private institution of higher education. On the other hand, certificate programs that are less than one year in duration may be eligible to provide federal financial aid to students if they are offered at a qualifying postsecondary vocational institution, and abide by certain parameters, such as being at least 600 clock hours in duration. Moreover, certificate programs with courses that are designed for elementary or secondary teacher certification or re-certification are generally eligible for financial aid. These requirements are subject to change; for more information, visit the Federal Student Aid website.
How To Determine Whether or Not a Graduate Certificate Program Qualifies for Federal Student Aid
The best way to determine whether or not a graduate certificate program is eligible for federal student loans, grants, and/or work-study initiatives is through the school offering the program. Many colleges and universities maintain a list of graduate certificate programs that are eligible for financial aid. For example, the University of Missouri-St. Louis (USML) has over 30 graduate certificate programs that are approved by the Department of Education for financial aid and these programs are listed on the USML website. Similarly, Arizona State University (ASU), the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS), The University of Kansas (KU), and The University of Memphis are all accredited schools that offer multiples graduate certificate programs and maintain lists on their websites of programs that are eligible for federal student aid.
While college and university websites are a good way to identify graduate certificate programs for which federal aid is available, potential applicants to programs may also want to contact a school’s financial aid office or a program administrator regarding financial aid options, as well as for options regarding other types of grants and/or scholarships. Some states, for example, have financial assistance programs for students who are interested in training to become educators, nurses, social workers, and other types of in-demand, state-licensed education, health, and human services professionals. Additionally, there are private foundations and organizations that offer scholarships and grants to qualified students in specific fields and graduate programs. Finally, some employers may cover some or all of the cost of a graduate certificate program for employees who are interested in cultivating skills that have practical workplace applications.
- Federal Student Aid Handbook – https://fsapartners.ed.gov/knowledge-center/fsa-handbook
- Application for Approval to Participate in the Federal Student Financial Aid Programs – https://eligcert.ed.gov/index1.html & https://eligcert.ed.gov/ows-doc/eapp.pdf
- University of Missouri–St. Louis Graduate Certificates Eligible for Financial Aid – https://www.umsl.edu/sfs/students/eligible-grad-certificates.html
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