Financing Your Graduate Degree

Strategies, options, and resources for financing your graduate or professional degree.

Graduate education financing needs are diverse and vary according to individual circumstances, especially for doctoral and professional degree students. Whether you are pursuing your professional MSW or your research PhD at Berkeley, understanding the costs associated with earning your graduate degree, and the variety of options and resources for assistance with meeting those costs, is essential to ensuring a successful graduate education experience – as an applicant, student, and postgraduate.

This guide offers advice and resources for four key strategies for financing your graduate education:

  1. Understanding educational costs and budget.
  2. Planning ahead for your educational financing needs.
  3. Expanding and diversifying your financial resource base.
  4. Managing your educational finances effectively.

Understand Costs and Budget

The first step to successfully financing your graduate/professional degree is to understand the associated costs, as well as the student budget used for determining financial aid eligibility.

How Much Does It Cost?

Berkeley Social Welfare graduate students pay tuition and fees based on their degree program:

Master of Social Welfare (MSW)

Full-time MSW students are assessed Graduate Professional Fees, which include a campus fee, student services fee, supplemental tuition fees, student health insruance fees, and others. Tuition and Fees are assessed each semester by the Office of the Registrar, based a student's academic program. For fee definitions, please visit Tuition & Fees.

FlexMSW students in both program tracks (Advanced Standing and Extended) pay a per-credit fee of $1,850 per unit.

Social Welfare PhD

PhD students are assessed Graduate Academic Fees.

Graduate Student Budget

The annual estimate of the total cost of attending Berkeley, including average living expenses, is known as your Cost of Attendance (COA), or Student Budget. The Graduate Student Budget is used to help determine the amount of financial aid you may be eligible to receive.

For current student budget amounts, see the Financial Aid and Scholarship Office's Cost of Attendance.

Important points about the Graduate Student Budget:

  • By federal law, a Student Budget may only cover student expenses; spouse or dependent living expenses may not be included. Federal financial aid rules do not allow for a “married student” or “student parent/family” budget (with the exception of documented child care costs which may be added).
  • The total amount of all financial aid awards you receive - including loans, fellowships, training stipends and other departmental awards - cannot exceed your Student Budget.
  • Your eligibility for Federal Direct Loans will be the difference between your Cost of Attendance and any other merit-based or other grant awards you receive.
  • You may submit a Cost of Attendance Adjustment request with documentation of any educational expenses you have that exceed items in the standard Cost of Attendance within the academic year terms for which you are enrolled.

Housing Costs

Berkeley's location in the highly desirable Bay Area means housing costs can be high, especially for students. Most graduate students live in off-campus rental housing in Berkeley or one of the surrounding communities. Check out the following resources to get a realistic view of current housing costs and some tips for finding housing:

Required Health Insurance

All University of California graduate students are assessed fees for required health insurance coverage. As a condition of enrollment all registered students at the University of California are required to meet the university’s health insurance mandate. Registered UC Berkeley graduate students are automatically enrolled in the Berkeley Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) as a way to meet this mandate; and Graduate Student Budgets include the cost of required health insurance coverage. You may be eligible to waive enrollment in SHIP and not pay the mandatory health insurance fee if you already have comparable insurance coverage that satisfies the University's requirement.

Residency for Tuition Purposes

Students are classified as residents or nonresidents after completing the Statement of Legal Residence shortly after being admitted to the University. Graduate students (U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and some eligible nonimmigrants) who enter UC Berkeley as nonresidents and who establish residency for the required year may be classified as residents for tuition purposes within one year after their arrival. These students then receive the benefit of paying at the lower resident rate. International students with F-1 or J-1 visas/nonimmigrant status are not eligible to establish residency.

The residency classification process is not automatic. Continuing nonresident students who have made California their permanent home and believe that they are eligible for resident status must submit an online residency classification petition. Students are responsible for providing clear and convincing evidence that they have satisfied all residency requirements. 

Supporting documentation can be uploaded to Cal Central prior to established deadlines. Even though few nonresident students submit a petition to change their residency status until the end of their first academic year at Berkeley, you must start the process of fulfilling the residency requirements as soon as you arrive. This includes documenting when you arrived, that your year of physical presence in this state is coupled with your intent to make California your home, and that you are financially independent.

Doctoral Student Residency

Social Welfare doctoral students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents are expected to establish California residency at the end of their first year in California, and to maintain residency throughout their studies. Nonresident Supplemental Tuition (NRST) for out-of-state doctoral students in Social Welfare will only be covered by a Doctoral Student Support Package for the first year.

Plan Ahead

You should be planning any needed financial assistance arrangements as far in advance of enrollment as possible.

  • Searching and applying for financial assistance opportunities can be a time-consuming and lengthy process. Explore all of the options and resources in this guide well before submitting your online Graduate and Professional Application for Admission. Pay particular attention to deadlines and submission requirements for the various types of financial assistance potentially available to you.
  • Begin your search for external fellowships and awards as early as possible, preferably at least one year before your anticipated enrollment in graduate school.
  • File a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the priority deadline, even if you are not sure you will need or want any aid from the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office (FASO). You can always decide later whether to accept aid for which you are eligible.
  • Review FASO's Graduate Award Guide to understand how financial aid (loans) eligibility and disbursement may be affected by other types of financial support awards.

Expand and Diversify Your Resources

The most successful strategy for funding your graduate education is to expand and diversify your resource base - that is, explore and utilize as many funding resources as possible that may be available to help support your graduate studies, rather than relying solely on one or two traditional forms of support. In addition to a personal contribution to pay for graduate school, most graduate students receive some form of financial assistance through a combination of a variety of resources.

Financial Aid: Federal Student Loans and Work-Study

Federal Student Loan Programs provide the major source of need-based financial aid funding for graduate professional degree students. Berkeley participates in the Federal Direct Student Loan and Work-Study Programs, which are administered by the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office.

At Berkeley, about 50% of master’s students (including professional degree students) and about 6% of doctoral students take out student loans. Social workers with educational debt may also be eligible for certain loan forgiveness or payment modification programs post-graduation.

Work-study is a need-based federal student aid program that gives you the opportunity to earn money through part-time employment. Work-study employment is a great way to help minimize student loan debt. Graduate students with a work-study award as part of their financial aid package from the Berkeley Financial Aid and Scholarships Office can apply for work-study jobs. Students who do not have work-study but do have financial need (currently receiving student loans) may also convert unpaid need-based loans to work-study. Some MSW field placement agencies may also participate in work-study and offer a small stipend.

  • See our Student Loans and Work-Study page for more information on applying for financial aid or work-study, resources for student loan borrowers, and links to loan repayment and forgiveness programs.

Graduate Fellowships and Awards

Graduate fellowships include departmental awards, campus and university fellowships, and extramural awards (those from external/outside sources). All prospective applicants and current students are always encouraged to apply for all fellowship opportunities for which they may be eligible, no matter the award amount - it adds up quickly!

Explore the following resources to learn more about graduate fellowships and awards potentially available to social welfare students:

Graduate Student Academic Employment

Academic Student Employment as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI), Graduate Student Researcher (GSR), Reader, or Tutor can be an important source of financial support for eligible Berkeley graduate students. Most financial packages for doctoral students, such as multi-year fellowships, usually require academic student employment (ASE) as part of the overall funding package.

Students must meet certain academic requirements and other eligibility criteria to qualify for graduate student academic employment. Graduate students are also subject to Graduate Council and Graduate Division policies regarding appointments to academic and staff titles, including minimum enrollment requirements and limitations on percentage of appointment.

  • See our Academic Student Employment page to learn more about graduate student academic appointment eligibility, requirements and employment opportunities at Berkeley.

International Students

International students should plan carefully for their financial support while attending UC Berkeley. International students, except those on immigrant visa or refugee status, are not eligible for federal or state-supported financial assistance programs for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, nor are they eligible for support from the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office. International students in F-1 or J-1 status cannot establish California residency and must pay nonresident supplemental tuition.

Although international students are not eligible for most institutional aid limited to U.S. citizens and California residents, they may be eligible for some University fellowships and departmental fellowships. Continuing international students in Social Welfare are eligible to apply for certain departmentally restricted awards. Applications for these awards are distributed to continuing students when available.

Berkeley International Office (BIO) administers some limited need-based aid programs for international students. These awards include Graduate Tuition & Fee Awards and Graduate Student Parent Awards. Need-based BIO awards are intended for those students in the most financial need, and are not intended to provide long-term support. The application period typically occurs at the beginning of each fall and spring semester.

Student Parent Support

Student parents make up about 10% of Berkeley’s graduate population. Berkeley offers an array of support programs and services for graduate student parents, including Parent Grants, back-up childcare options, and more. See the Graduate Division's Support for Student Parents page for more details.

Undocumented Graduate Student Support

The Office for Graduate Diversity (OGD) is an integral part of the Graduate Division at UC Berkeley. OGD provides support services specifically focused on the needs of underrepresented prospective and continuing graduate students at Berkeley. For information on financial aid and scholarship resources for undocumented students, please visit Undocumented Graduate Student Financial Resources

Veterans' Benefits

If you are a student who has served in the U.S. military, you may be eligible for federal veterans' educational benefits to assist with paying for your graduate degree. Check out the following resources to learn more:

Manage Your Finances Effectively


CalCentral is Berkeley's student information system portal - every student at UC Berkeley has a CalCentral account. CalCentral provides easy access to your financial aid and billing records in the "My Finances" tab. You can view and manage your financial aid awards, billing, and other information under My Finances. You also make payments, sign up for the Fee Payment Plan or Direct Deposit, and take any other action needed to manage your student financial account all through My Finances. Always be sure to monitor your Task List in your My Finances tab, and promptly respond to any requests for action on your part - especially if you are a student loan borrower.

Direct Deposit

All students are strongly encouraged to sign up for Student Direct Deposit to receive any student aid payments (including fellowship, stipend and financial aid payments) securely, conveniently, and as quickly as possible. Direct Deposit payments and refunds directly into a designated checking or savings account, eliminating the risk of a lost or stolen refund check. It is also the fastest way to receive funds.