Can You Use a 529 Plan to Pay for Graduate School?

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Mark Kantrowitz

By Mark Kantrowitz

March 19, 2024

A 529 college savings plan may be used to pay for the beneficiary’s graduate or professional school education and lessen the reliance on student loans. A distribution to pay for qualified education expenses at a graduate or professional school will be considered a qualified distribution and, therefore, tax-free.

Which Graduate and Professional Schools Are Eligible?

Eligible educational institutions include any college or university eligible for Title IV federal student aid. This includes most graduate schools, professional schools in the U.S., and some foreign institutions. This includes medical schools, law schools, and business schools. All graduate and professional degrees are eligible, including Master’s degrees (e.g., MSW, MBA, MA, and MS), doctoral degrees (e.g., Ph.D., and EdD), medical degrees (e.g., MD, DO, DVM, and PharmD), and law degrees (e.g., JD and LLB).

To determine whether a graduate or professional institution is an eligible school, look for the school’s Federal School Code on its website. Note that graduate and professional schools often have a different Federal School Code than undergraduate institutions. You can also use the Federal School Code Lookup tool on

Which Expenses Are Eligible?

To take advantage of the tax-advantaged nature of 529 plans, you must have qualified higher education expenses that meet the requirements for tax-free withdrawals. The requirements are the same at a graduate or professional school as at an undergraduate school. The 529 plan qualifying college expenses include:

  • Tuition and fees, books, supplies, and equipment required for enrollment or attendance of the beneficiary at the graduate or professional school
  • Special needs expenses
  • Expenses for the purchase of a computer (including peripheral equipment, software and internet access)
  • Room and board, if the student is enrolled on at least a half-time basis

If you withdraw funds from your 529 plan for expenses that aren’t qualified, you’ll be responsible for paying income tax on the earnings portion of the withdrawal plus a 10% penalty.

When Do Families Use 529 Plans for Graduate or Professional School?

A 529 plan is often used to pay for graduate or professional school when there is leftover money from the beneficiary’s undergraduate education.

However, the family should set up a 529 savings account just for graduate or professional school after the student has graduated from undergraduate school. The time horizon for graduate school differs from that for undergraduate school.

Also, depending on the account owner, a 529 plan for grad school may count as an asset on the student’s undergraduate FAFSA, negatively impacting undergraduate financial aid eligibility. 

Sometimes, a child decides not to go to college. The parent can change the beneficiary to themselves and use the leftover funds to pay for their graduate or professional school education.

A good place to start:

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