I have a question regarding filling out the FAFSA or not as a incoming PhD student.

What is the benefit of filling out the FAFSA if you are a(n) (incoming) PhD student? In the US (at least in physics), PhDs are (to the best of my knowledge) fully funded — full tuition waiver + a "decent" TA stipend initially and then an RA later. And so I'm a bit confused if I should fill out the FAFSA at all.

Is it a case of "you might as well," since it could end up supplying me additional funds to supplement the TA stipend (which is usually less than RA stipend)? Could the additional funds go to unforeseen student fees and such? Or is it simply not needed as my tuition will be fully waived and I will be getting paid?

For reference, from a graduate school's website:

Types of Financial Aid

A variety of aid is available for all income levels, including various types of student educational loans (Graduate and Professional Student Loans, Short-Term and Emergency Loans), grants, and Work-Study funding. Contact your graduate program regarding the availability of work-study funding.

Apply for Financial Aid

All students interested in educational loans are required to apply for financial aid via the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or the California Dream Act Application. Both applications are free. Whether or not students think they are eligible, we encourage you to apply for financial aid each year. You may apply for financial aid before you have been admitted.

  • 1
    There are pretty much no situations where taking out loans to get a PhD are a good idea. If you're willing to take out loans to work for someone, I need my lawn mowed and my car washed. (Don't fill out the FAFSA)
    – user101106
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 21:23
  • 2
    You should check with your department; they may prefer or require you to fill it out even if you don't want loans. When I was at the Univ. of California, they required us to fill it out every year -- I do not know the details, but they got rebates if we qualified for certain grants. If we forgot to fill it out, the department would punish us by not covering certain fees (which cost a few grand a year).
    – cag51
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 23:07

2 Answers 2


First off, while many PhD students in many degree programs in the U.S. receive TA and RA positions, these are hardly universal. Many students, especially those who are foreign-born or in the humanities, are responsible for paying their own way.

You need to complete the FAFSA if you want to be eligible for student loans, which could help bridge the cost of your living expenses if your TA/RA stipend isn't large enough. For some universities, it can also unlock the door for scholarships or other funding that may cover things your TA/RA does not. It's not uncommon for TAs/RAs to still have to pay several hundred or even thousand dollars per semester in fees.

If you're a first-year PhD student, I'd suggest completing the FAFSA and see if it yields anything beneficial. After the first year, you can decide if you want to keep filing or skip it.

  • Thank you very much! I edited the question to include the fact that I am asking specifically in regards to physics, which (to my knowledge) is nearly always fully funded — i.e. full tuition waiver + a "decent" TA stipend before achieving an RA position later.
    – Lopey Tall
    Commented Jan 20, 2019 at 23:33
  • 1
    "Fully funded" might not always mean what you think it does- it's not uncommon for random fees to have to be paid out of your stipend. For many students (especially those with children) the stipend might not be enough funding- taking out loans is sometimes necessary. Commented Jan 21, 2019 at 1:06
  • Can we add that for US students, FAFSA primarily opens you up to scholarships, (un)/subsidized federal loans and Pell grants, but Pell grants only apply up to your first Bachelor's degree.
    – CKM
    Commented Jan 22, 2019 at 19:00

What is the benefit of filling out the FAFSA if you are a(n) (incoming) PhD student? In the US, PhDs are fully funded

That's not universally true, see e.g. this. Even when it is, fully funded doesn't necessarily imply that the money you receive is enough to cover living costs. I believe the FAFSA application is required for certain need-based loans, and some federal grants that may be available to specific types graduate programs. You should be able to tell from your offer letter what level of funding you're promised.

Google reveals that the grad school website you've posted excerpts from likely is UC Davis'. It appears that they offer some merit- and need-based university and departmental fellowships, for which they require a FAFSA application. You might want to check with university staff (e.g. your department's graduate coordinator) if it's worthwhile to apply for these or not.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .