Understanding Financial Aid

Understanding Financial Aid

Understanding financial aid involves grasping the various types of financial assistance available to students, including grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study programs. It also involves comprehending the application process, eligibility criteria, and terms and conditions associated with each type of aid. Additionally, understanding financial aid entails awareness of the implications of accepting aid, such as repayment obligations for loans or academic performance requirements for maintaining eligibility. Furthermore, it involves being knowledgeable about sources of financial aid, such as institutional, federal and private funding, as well as strategies for maximizing aid opportunities and managing personal finances throughout one's educational journey. Overall, understanding financial aid empowers students to make informed decisions regarding their education financing and helps alleviate financial barriers to accessing graduate studies.

A student's financial aid package comprises various forms of assistance from multiple sources, aiming to bridge the gap between one's financial capacity and the costs associated with their degree program. Aid packages are determined on an annual basis and students need to reapply each year to determine eligibility. The information presented here outlines the types of financial aid managed by the Financial Aid Office, along with eligibility criteria for each program, to help students make well-informed financial decisions.

The Financial Aid Office is located on the second floor of the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library at 2400 Ridge Road. Our general walk-in office hours are from 9:30 am - 4:30 pm, Monday through Thursday. To schedule an appointment with a member of the Financial Aid team, please send an email request with the subject line "appointment request" to finaid@gtu.edu or call us at (510) 649-2469.

For information on how to apply for financial aid, please see How to Apply for Financial Aid.

GTU Tuition Aid x x x x x x
Federal Work-Study x x x x x x
Federal Direct Loans x x x x x x

Financial Aid Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for financial aid, you must be either an entering or continuing student enrolled in an accredited degree program, specifically the Master of Arts or Doctor of Philosophy program. All students are required to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) as outlined by the GTU's current SAP policies, which align with federal regulatory requirements.

  • PhD Students must be enrolled full-time (12.00 units each semester; fall and spring)
  • MA Students must be enrolled at least half-time (6.00 units each semester; fall and spring)

For both institutional and federal student aid consideration, you must complete the GTU Financial Aid Application. If you are a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen, you must also complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). International applicants must also submit bank statements for all foreign and domestic accounts for the most current three-month period. Members of religious orders must provide a letter of support from their superior documenting any support they will receive toward their educational costs

IMPORTANT NOTE: GTU Master of Arts students affiliated with a the Member or Affiliate school of the GTU Consortium must also adhere to the financial aid application requirements and applicable deadlines of their member/affiliate school in order to be considered for tuition-restricted aid eligibility. Aid eligibility including tuition assistance awarded by a member/affilate school is packaged and communicated to all prospective and current MA students by the GTU Financial Aid Office.

Federal Student Aid (e.g. federal Direct Loans and Federal Work-Study) To Qualify you MUST:

  • must be a U.S. citizen or an eligible non-citizen;
  • be enrolled as a regular student and working toward an eligible degree program;
  • have a valid Social Security Number;
  • maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)
  • certify that no federal student loan is in a default status and no money is owed on a federal student grant

For more information on how to apply for Financial Aid, visit the How to Apply for Financial Aid page.

Student Aid Index (SAI): The Graduate Theological Union uses a need analysis formula established by the U.S. Department of Education to determine an applicant’s ability to contribute to the Cost of Attendance. All financial aid applicants will find an SAI value listed on the financial aid offer.  For U.S. citizen and eligile non-citizen applicants, the SAI is the result of the information provided on the FAFSA. The federal methodology calculation of the FAFSA takes into account certain income and asset protection, and employment expense allowances based on household size. For international applicants, the SAI is the result of the information provided on the GTU Financial Aid Application and supplemental information provided by the applicant. In both cases, the SAI represents an evaluation of family size, income, assets and resources.

Financial Need 
Financial need refers to the difference between the cost of attendance for a qualified degree program (Master of Arts or Doctor of Philosophy) and the Student Aid Index (SAI) as determined by the institution. It represents the gap between a student's or family's ability to pay for education and the total cost of attending the GTU, that includes tuition and any indirect costs such as room and board, books, and other education related expenses. Financial need is typically assessed through the completion the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the GTU Supplemental Financial Aid Application, which takes into account factors such as family income, assets, household size. Financial need determines eligibility for need-based financial aid programs, including grants, scholarships, fedearl work-study opportunities, and unsubsidized educaiton loans. It is important to note that demonstration of need does not automatically guarantee a need-based financial aid award, as aid is limited to the availability of funding.

Cost of Attendance are the components of an estimated student budget for the 9-month, 2024-25 academic year associated with full-time enrollment at the GTU.  This is the basis of your financial aid package and includes both direct expenses billed by the institution (Board approved tuition and fees) and estimated indirect expenses not billed by the school (books, course materials and supplies, living expenses, transportation, health insurance, loan fees, and miscellaneous personal expenses) as dictated by federal regulations. These figures are not intended to represent your tuition bill for the academic year but is the total estimated cost of attending the GTU for one academic year.  Your financial aid cannot exceed your total cost of attendance.

GTU Need-based Aid: Each year, the Graduate Theological Union distributes tuition-restricted scholarship aid to students who demonstrate financial need in accordance with the Federal Methodology (FM) calculation of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The amount is determined on the basis of the number of eligible applicants and the availability of funds. Scholarship aid is prioritized for students paying tuition in the first two years of full-time enrollment.  Need-based scholarship aid is not typically granted to students who are in the continuing relations fee stage of the Doctoral and Master of Arts programs. NOTE: MA students who have been approved for transfer of credits from another institution or member school that count toward the 48.00 unit Tuition/Residency requirement may affect need-based institutional aid eligibility.

GTU Merit-based Aid
Merit-based aid, also known as merit scholarships or merit awards, refers to financial assistance provided to students based on their academic achievements, talents, or other accomplishments, rather than financial need. These scholarships are typically awarded to students who demonstrate exceptional performance in academics, leadership, or other areas as determined by the criteria set forth by the donor or organization. Merit-based aid does not require the recipient to demonstrate financial need but rather focuses on rewarding students for their accomplishments and potential for future success. In most cases, the scholarship sponsor has a set of criteria in order to select the recipient(s) amongst all qualified applicants. Some merit scholarships also consider demonstrated financial need, but rewarding ability is the primary objective.

External Resources/Private Funding
"Outside resources" refers to any funds or financial support that a student receives for educational purposes from sources external from the GTU. These resources may include, but are not limited to, scholarships, grants, personal loans, support from religious denominations, Vocational Rehabilitation, AmeriCorps or other forms of financial assistance provided by government agencies, private organizations, employers, or other entities outside of the institution itself. This can also include payments made to the school by someone other than the student. These resources serve to complement a student's financial aid package from the GTU and help offset educational expenses such as tuition, fees, books, and living costs. It is essential for students to disclose any outside resources they receive to the financial aid office, as it may affect eligibility for institutional aid or impact their overall financial aid package. Failure to report external funding sources may result in the requirement to repay GTU or the federal government all or part of any financial aid received. If there are discrepancies in the total outside resources listed on your financial aid package, please utilize the Verification of External Aid form or send an email to update the Financial Aid Office.

Federal Work-Study (domestic and eligible non-citizens): Work-Study gives students the opportunity to earn part of what they need to meet indirect educational expenses. Each year, the GTU offers a limited number of federal work-study awards to new and continuing students who have demonstrated financial need in accordance with federal regulations. An applicant expresses interest in work-study on question 31 of the FAFSA. (International students are not eligible for federal work-study, which is a need-based form of Title IV federal student aid.)  Accepting a FWS offer does not guarantee a job, you must interview, be offered a position, and be placed on payroll before you can be paid. Work-study employment for the 2024-25 year may begin on or after July 1, 2024 in a work-study approved on or off-campus position.  Before starting employment, a federal work-study authorization form must be filed along with a copy of a current job description to the Financial Aid Office and employment paperwork must be completed with Human Resources. PLEASE NOTE: If you accept a FWS offer and are not hired for a work-study position by October 31, 2024, the fall portion of your offer will be forfeited; however you can maintain your spring eligibility by contacting us at finaid@gtu.edu.


Loans are a form of “self-help” financial aid that unlike scholarships, grants and work-study, must be repaid with interest. Education loans are provided by either the Federal Government or by Private Lenders. Federal student loans are sometimes referred to as Direct or Stafford loans whose authorized purpose by federal law is to help to pay for education-related expenses. These allowable education-related expenses are included in the GTU’s published cost of attendance (COA), which is often referred to as a student budget.

All students borrowing a federal student loan for the first time in either the MA or PhD programs at the GTU must complete online a Master Promissory Note (MPN) and Loan Entrance Counseling, as outlined on the Financial Aid Checklist.

Federal Direct Loan Annual and Aggregate Limits: The annual maximum of $20,500 represents the total gross amount of federal Unsubsidized Direct Loan a graduate student may borrow based on eligibility for an academic year.  The lifetime aggregate student loan borrowing limit of $138,500, includes all combined FFEL and Direct student loans borrowed at both the graduate and undergraduate student levels.

Federal Loan and Grant information: Students can access details regarding their federal loans and grants by logging into StudentAid.gov using their FSA ID and password. We recommend that students check their Dashboard once per semester to ensure there are no discrepancies.

Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loan: Domestic students may request to borrow a federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan, a non-need-based form of TIV federal student aid, to meet educational costs not supported with financial assistance, a student’s estimated unmet cost. Unsubsidized loans are generally eligible for in-school deferment, which means the student borrower can defer loan repayment until six months after the borrow graduates, takes an approved leave of absence, withdraws, or otherwise drops below half-time enrollment, however, interest begins to accrue as soon as the loan disburses. Upon repayment, any unpaid interest that has accrued is added to the principal balance of the loan. Loans are disbursed in two substantially equal amounts between the fall and spring semesters. Information about the Federal Direct Loan program may be found online at http://studentaid.gov. Students who have not previously borrowed a federal unsubsidized loan or whose Federal Direct Loan Master Promissory Note (MPN) has expired must also complete the MPN as listed on the Financcial Aid Award Checklist. Once completed, the MPN is a multi-year promissory note good for a period of ten years.

Federal Graduate PLUS Loan: Domestic students may request to borrow a federal Graduate PLUS loan to meet educational costs not supported with financial assistance, the student’s estimated unmet cost. The borrower is required to pass a credit check and also meet the general eligibility requirements for federal financial aid. For example, you must not be in default or owe an overpayment to any Title IV federal student aid program. Interest rate and fee information may be found online at http://studentaid.gov. Students should review and follow the GTU Graduate PLUS Loan Policy in order to borrow a Grad PLUS Loan.

Entrance Counseling for Federal loan recipients:  Before receiving a Direct Unsubsidized and/or Graduate PLUS loan disbursement, a student must complete online Entrance Counseling at studentaid.gov.  A FSA ID and password is required to fulfill entrance counseling. Entrance counseling is a federal requirement that explains a federal student borrower’s rights and responsibilities. 

PLUS Credit Counseling: PLUS Credit Counseling is required if the U.S. Department of Education has determined an adverse credit history and the student must have either obtained an endorser or documented extenuating circumstances to the satisfaction of the U.S. Department of Education. PLUS Credit Counseling can be completed voluntarily at any time. If PLUS Credit Counseling is completed voluntarily and the borrower has been determined to have an adverse credit history by the U.S. Department of Education within 30 days of PLUS Credit Counseling completion, the requirement will be considered fulfilled.

Federal Student Loan Simulator: Use the federal student Loan Estimator tool, to explore and view Standard, Graduated, or Extended, SAVE (formerly REPAYE), PAYE, IBR, or ICR repayment estimates based on your actual federal student loan information. The Loan Simulator estimates your federal student loan payments under each repayment plan so you can make informed decisions. NOTE: All TIV federal student loans borrowed automatically default to the Standard 10-year Repayment Plan unless you otherwise actively request or apply for another repayment option.

In-School Loan Deferment: The GTU Registrar’s Office reports enrollment through the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) on a regularly scheduled basis throughout the academic year. If you have prior federal student loans and wish to bridge the gap between the start of the term and Clearinghouse reporting, you may download an in-school deferment form at: http://gtu.edu/admissions/financial-aid. The GTU Registrar is the “Certifying Official” and can complete the school certification section of the form on the first day instruction.

Satisfactory Academic Progress: The Higher Education Act of 1965 requires institutions of higher education to establish a reasonable Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) policy to determine whether an otherwise eligible student is making SAP in their educational program. Satisfactory Academic Progress is required in order to maintain institutional and federal financial aid eligibility and is the standard used to monitor a student’s progress towards successful completion of coursework in their degree program.  Please carefully review the GTU’s Satisfactory Academic Progress Policies (SAP) located in the GTU MA and Doctoral Student Handbooks.

Financial Aid Appeals: In certain situations, students may appeal for a reevaluation of their eligibility for financial assistance. Examples of circumstances that will be considered include: involuntary loss of employment, high medical costs not covered by insurance, or increased educational expenses above the GTU’s standard cost of attendance.  Please be prepared to provide accurate and complete supporting documentation to substantiate your request (i.e. copies of W2’s, tax forms, hospital bills, etc.). Note: discretionary and non-educational personal expenses will not be considered in the evaluation of your eligibility for financial aid. Financial aid is limited to the use towards payment of required tuition and fees, books and supplies, and for maintenance costs related to your education and attendance at the Graduate Theological Union.

Return of Title IV Funds (R2T4): The Higher Education Amendments of 1998 require that the institution calculate prorated student aid eligibility for students who withdraw or take a leave of absence before completing more than sixty percent of any given academic term.  Aid awarded to the student and not earned at the time of the effective date of withdrawal will be returned to the TIV Federal Student Aid Programs. The TIV programs include Federal Direct Unsubsidized and Graduate PLUS Loans.  The amount of unearned federal financial aid is calculated on a percentage basis by measuring the total number of days the student completed against the total number of days in the payment period. The payment period is defined as the semester from which the student withdraws or takes a leave of absence. The GTU must return any unearned aid they accepted in payment of charges and must notify the student of their responsibility for returning any unearned aid received as a credit refund after all charges had been paid. If a return creates a balance due on the student’s account, the student will be responsible for full payment. The student will not be allowed to reenter, register or receive academic transcripts until the outstanding balance has been paid in full.

Exit Counseling for Federal Loan Recipients: Federal student loan borrowers who graduate, take a leave of absence, fall below half-time enrollment (less than 6.00 units) or withdraw must complete loan exit counseling within thirty (30) days of separation from the school as mandated by federal regulation. Students will be contacted by email to request completion of online exit counseling at studentaid.gov and/or may request an in person appointment with a financial aid professional. Students can log into the studentaid.gov to retrieve their federal student loan history and view more detailed information about loan repayment options.