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Scholarships & Financial Aid for Graduate Students

Grants, Student Loans, & Fellowships

Thinking about pursuing a master’s degree? Not sure you can afford it? Whether you are a working adult seeking a master’s degree for career advancement, or a recent graduate holding a bachelor’s degree and looking to continue on, graduate school is a large investment. However, with much preparation and dedication in seeking the right graduate school, students can find graduate financial aid, too.

Many graduate schools offer several financial aid options for students. The most common are graduate scholarships, grants, fellowships & assistantships, and loans. Most scholarships require filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Keep in mind, every institution also has requirements for graduate financial aid. Be sure you know the requirements and any other eligibility criteria.

Types of Graduate School Financial Aid

  1. Graduate scholarships & grants
  2. Graduate fellowships & assistantships
  3. Graduate loans

Graduate Scholarships & Grants

Most public and private institutions with graduate programs offer graduate scholarships. Graduate scholarships are gift aid that does not have to be repaid. Scholarships are awarded based on merit and need. Students are usually required to fill out and submit an FAFSA to be considered. To ensure students are considered for scholarship availability, they should apply early.

Some educational institutions also offer grants. This is gift aid that does not have to be repaid. It is usually awarded based on a student’s area of study. Grants can be used to pay for the graduate student’s general education, or to support their research efforts.

Graduate Fellowships & Assistantships

Besides scholarships and grants, graduate students can look into fellowships and graduate assistantships within their department of study. These are special programs which benefit the students both academically and financially. Fellowships are merit-based awards, similar to scholarships. With a fellowship, students typically receive a tuition waiver and a stipend for each semester. To keep their fellowship award, students must maintain good grades.

Graduate assistantships function a bit differently. Graduate assistants typically don’t pay for tuition costs. In exchange, they teach courses or conduct research with faculty members. Full-time graduate assistants usually work 20 hours a week, receive a tuition waiver, and a stipend which is determined by the department. Half-time students work 10 hours and receive half of their tuition costs waived and half the amount of stipend. Assistantships are great ways for students to get excellent work experience. Graduate assistants may also receive other perks for their work efforts, such as privileges on-campus and health insurance. Perks vary based on the institution and department.

Most fellowships are offered through the university or college, but that’s not always the case. Here are a couple of examples of fellowships administered by other organizations:

<a href =“http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=6201”>*Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP)* —this is a unique program administered by the National Science Foundation. The Division of Graduate Education works with the Office of International Science gives students the opportunity to conduct international research.

National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship —The Department of Defense typically awards nearly 200 students pursuing doctoral degrees in disciplines such as biosciences, civic engineering, oceanography, mathematics, or geosciences. Students receive three-year graduate fellowships if selected.

Pickering Graduate Fellowship —this progam awards graduate students enrolled in areas of study such aas economics, foreign language, and public policy. Award includes tuition, room and board,other fees the first two years of graduate school. Also included is reimbursment for one round-trip every school year, and book fees.

National Physical Science Consortium Graduate Fellowship —this program awards graduate students enrolled in physcial sciences and engineering fields during their first 2-3 years of graduate school. Fellowship includes tuition, allowance, fees, and summer employment for two summers.

DOE Computational Science Graduate Fellowship —this program awards graduate students pursuing a PhD in science or engineering fields. Applicants must be full-time graduate students in their first or second year of graduate school. Fellowship includes full tuition and fees, a yearly stipend, and academic allowance.

Richard M. Weaver Fellowship —funded by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, this fellowship is awarded to future teachers at the graduate level. Applicants are required to submit an essay to be considered. Fellowship award includes a $5,000 grant, and full tuition.

Graduate Loans

Besides scholarships, grants, fellowships and assistantships, graduate students can seek graduate loans to help supplement other financial aid or to defray the cost of graduate school. There are many loans to choose from: federal student loans like the ones provided for undergraduates; private student loans; and specialized graduate loans. Specialized graduate loans are based on one area of study, such as Law School Loans. Students must apply for loans to be considered. Loans are gift money that has to be repaid. Most loans are awarded based on income, assets, and financial need. There are many loan options; therefore, students are advised to research thoroughly. Select the loan type that suits your specific need. Keep in mind that federal, state, or school-sponsored loans almost always have better interest rates and repayment terms when compared to loans received directly from a bank or other lender.

Key Points for Graduate Financial Aid

It is important to keep these tips in mind when looking into graduate financial aid programs:


  • Don’t procrastinate. If you submit your FAFSA early, you can apply for graduate scholarships early. Search for scholarships in your junior year of college. If working, prepare at least 18 months prior to going to graduate school.

  • Do your homework. Research, research, research. There are many online resources for graduate scholarships, grants, loans, fellowships and assistantships.

  • Don’t neglect the obvious. Check with several graduate schools of interest and find out what graduate financial aid options they offer.

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