Financial Aid FAQs

posted in: FAQs, Financial Aid | 0

If you’re like most of us, you started thinking pretty quickly about how to afford grad school. We know that a master’s degree is a big investment, so we created this post to walk you through financial aid at Emerson, step by step. Here are the top 7 questions we get about financial aid:


1.   What’s the difference between a scholarship, loans, and financial aid?

Financial aid is the umbrella term for all the sources of funding that support you in paying your tuition, fees, and living expenses while you are a student. Students at the graduate level may see two types of financial aid listed in their financial aid award letter: scholarships and loans.


Institutional Gift Aid

Scholarships (sometimes known as fellowships) are institutional aid provided to you by Emerson College.

At Emerson, all scholarships and fellowships are awarded at the time of admission; if you have been awarded a scholarship, you will see an award letter in your admissions portal alongside your acceptance letter

Scholarship and fellowship money is gift aid and does not need to be paid back. It works as a tuition discount: you will see the award applied as a credit on your tuition bill. This money is awarded by the Office of Graduate Admission in conjunction with the academic departments, not by the Office of Financial Aid.

On your financial aid letter, you will see the scholarship or fellowship offer for the current academic year listed under the heading “Financial Aid Award,” as a separate category from any loans or other sources of aid (i.e., private scholarships).



Federal loans for graduate students are very straightforward: full-time students who complete a FAFSA will normally be eligible to borrow a maximum of $20,500 per year in Unsubsidized Direct Loan, regardless of financial need.

You may also be eligible for Graduate PLUS Loans or alternative (private) loans to cover any additional costs up to the cost of attendance that are not already covered by other loans or scholarships. More information is available at and

The total loan amount may not exceed the cost of attendance (including indirect costs such as housing) less the cost of any other financial assistance.

On your financial aid letter, you will see the loan offer for the current academic year listed under the heading “Financial Aid Award,” as a separate category from any scholarships.


2. Why does my scholarship letter look different than my financial aid letter?

If you were awarded an Emerson scholarship, you will see information about the award amount in two different ways: in your scholarship letter and in your financial aid letter.

The scholarship letter gives you the total amount of your scholarship across the length of your program, as well as a per-credit breakdown of the dollar value. The total value of the scholarship is calculated based on the number of credits required to complete your program.

The financial aid letter gives you the prorated scholarship amount for the current academic year. This reflects the portion of the scholarship that will be disbursed to you during the year; for most programs, this is not the same as the total award value. This is based on an estimated number of credits registered in each term and gets adjusted based on the actual credits in which you are enrolled at the end of the add/drop period. The add/drop period ends after the first two weeks of classes in each term.

Many students become confused by the difference in the letters, either because they assume that their scholarship letter and their financial aid letter are showing different awards, or because they assume that the annual amount shown in the financial aid letter reflects the total amount awarded. Neither of these is true! It’s the same award, expressed two different ways.

For example, if you were accepted to a 40-credit program and received a scholarship of $250 per credit, your total award value would be $10,000. This is what you will see on your scholarship letter.

However, on your first financial aid letter, you will see the award prorated for one academic year. With an estimated enrollment of 8 credits per semester, the award amount showing on your financial aid letter would be $2,000 per semester, or $4,000 for the year.


3. My parents’ income changed this year. Will this affect my award?

You are considered a financially independent individual for the purposes of grad school federal loans. You should fill out the FAFSA as an individual; your parents do not need to complete the FAFSA at graduate level.

Graduate students who complete a FAFSA will normally be offered a maximum of $20,500 per year in Unsubsidized Direct Loans, regardless of financial need. You can choose to accept as much or as little of that amount as you need.


4. Will any more scholarships be given out?

No. Scholarships are awarded at the time of admission; there is no second review or additional awarding.

Your financial aid letter may change if you enroll in more or fewer credits than the estimated number, but the scholarship award amount per credit will remain stable.

We encourage all students to apply for private scholarships outside of Emerson. Here’s a list to get you started. If you are awarded a private scholarship, please inform financial aid so that it can be reflected in your package.


5. What if I’m not taking 8 credits per semester? What if I take classes over the summer?

Adjustments will be made to your financial aid letter based on the number of classes that you actually enroll in each semester. The normal process is that your initial award is estimated based on the number of credits we predict that you will take, and then adjusted to reflect the actual numbers if necessary. The Office of Financial Aid will automatically check the award amount once you are registered each semester.

At Emerson, summer is counted as the “first” semester of a new academic year. If you are starting a program in Fall 2018 and planning to take classes in Summer 2019, you will see the summer aid reflected in next year’s financial aid letter.


6. When will I get paid?

Emerson scholarship money is applied directly to your tuition bill; it is not paid directly to students.

Loans will be disbursed after the start of the semester. For the Fall, this is usually in October if all of your documents were submitted correctly and on time. Incorrectly completed or late documents can cause delays in loan disbursement.

We recommend that students receiving loans have some money in reserve at the start of the program in order to pay housing costs, etc., until the loan comes through. However, when you receive your August 1 tuition bill, know that Student Accounts is not expecting a payment from you before loan disbursement. Don’t worry!


7. What about work study, teaching or research assistantships, or other jobs on campus?

Any work that you do for Emerson while you are a grad student will be paid by payroll. We do not offer tuition waivers or tuition remission-based employment. Rates of pay and hours vary for each position.

It is not normally possible to apply for on-campus work opportunities before you start your program. Look for positions to be advertised at the start of each new semester.  

If you are interested in research or teaching assistantships, you can contact the relevant faculty to express your interest; however, please note that it is not usually possible to apply for or start a position before you start classes.

For job opportunities specific to your program, contact your Graduate Program Director or your Admissions Liaison.


What if I have more questions?

Check out the Financial Assistance Award Guide, or get in touch with Grad Admission.