By ProFellow Founder Dr. Vicki Johnson
Around this time of year, I get lots of exciting emails and messages from readers who were accepted to graduate school – we love to celebrate this success! But often they reach out to us at ProFellow because they did not receive adequate scholarships, fellowships or tuition assistance from the university at acceptance. Readers will ask: “Where can I apply for funding or scholarships? The program begins in just a few months!” Sadly, this is a challenging question to answer because deadlines for most sources of external funding have already passed. Many graduate school applicants are unaware that the major funding awards and graduate fellowships offered by philanthropic organizations, government agencies and other external organizations have deadlines from September to January – at the same time (and sometimes sooner) than the graduate school application deadlines. So what now? I have a few suggestions to navigate the challenge of finding funding after you have been accepted to graduate school without a full funding offer.
Ask Admissions if you are still being considered for funding
Sometimes, funding is not offered at acceptance, and Admissions is still deciding and awaiting messages from accepted applicants who need financial aid to determine how they will distribute their limited funding. Even if they have parsed out funding offers already, they may not yet know who is going to accept their offer, so there may be funding still available in the coming months. Therefore, the very first thing to do when you receive an acceptance letter with no information about funding assistance, or receive an inadequate funding offer, is to ask the Admissions contact if you are still being considered for funding. It is important at this stage to let them know you have a financial need, especially if you are unable to enroll without partial or full funding. Don’t be shy about asking these questions! It’s important to advocate for your needs with Admissions.
If you did receive a funding award from a different university that is not your first choice, you should also share this information with the Admissions contact of your top choice program. It IS possible to negotiate for a funding offer or increased funding if the university has funding available. Read How to Negotiate Your Funding Offer for Graduate School: An Email Template to access my guidance on this step!
Ask Admissions about Graduate Assistantships
You should also ask Admissions about the availability of Graduate Assistantships that you could be eligible to apply for. Graduate Assistantships are part-time research and teaching jobs at the university that are exclusively for graduate students. Students with a Graduate Assistantship commit to working 10-20 hours per week during the academic year supporting the faculty in their research, teaching or administrative responsibilities. This part-time university position can provide you a stipend (aka salary), which in most U.S. universities ranges from $15,000 to $45,000 per year, as well as a full or partial tuition waiver as an employment benefit. Graduate Assistantships are a primary source of funding for graduate students, but not all universities have Assistantships. You’ll find Assistantships primarily offered to students in full-time, on-campus, research-based PhD and master’s programs, as well Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs.
If you have been accepted to a professional graduate degree program, an online or part-time graduate program, or a certificate program, you may not be eligible for a Graduate Assistantship, or they simply may not be available at the university. There are always exceptions to this general rule, so be sure to ask!
Check out our interview with Jonathan Lin Davis on how he found Assistantships in his university outside his Department.
Find Master’s and Doctoral Fellowships in the ProFellow database
As mentioned above, many external fellowships and funding sources that could be applied to your first year of graduate school have deadlines that have likely already passed by the time you received your acceptance; however, it is still worthwhile to immediately review possible graduate fellowships that may still be accepting applications. At ProFellow, we have a massive free database of fellowship awards for graduate school, and you can filter these awards by master’s or doctoral fellowships, your discipline, and citizenship eligibility, as well as sort them by the application deadline!
Sign up to view our free ProFellow database listing more than 300 Master’s Fellowships and Doctoral Fellowships to fund graduate tuition and research.
When reviewing fellowship opportunities note that each award has a different goal and purpose. Some awards aim to support specific topics of research, others aim to provide funding to diverse candidates underrepresented in the discipline, and some exist to provide professional development for specific post-graduate career tracks. Be sure to review the mission of the fellowship program carefully so you can express alignment with the funding body’s mission and apply for awards that are a good fit for your background and academic goals. Fellowships typically require application components similar to those from your graduate school applications, such as a personal statement, academic CV, diversity statement, research proposal or creative portfolio.
Defer grad school for one year
I know you are excited to get started! But if you do not have a feasible plan to pay for your full tuition and expenses over the coming years, or a plan for paying down the student loan debt you will accrue, I recommend deferring your graduate school enrollment for one year. This will give you more time to secure funding and create a plan, because you don’t want to be at risk of being unable to pay your tuition after starting a graduate program. Entering a graduate program without full funding or tuition assistance from the university means that you could rack up a student loan bill of $75,000+ for a two-year master’s program to $250,000+ for a five-year doctoral program. These amounts will be much more once they include loan interest and other expenses, so this is not a decision you should take lightly. Also, once you take out student loans, there aren’t external fellowships to pay down student loans. Fellowship funding is always for future tuition and research.
If you request a deferment, this step would give you more time to apply for external fellowships or to see if a Graduate Assistantship becomes available.
More importantly, I recommend you also use this time to apply to different graduate programs that are fully funded! You can find examples of these programs, as well as significant external fellowships, in our free Directory of Fully Funded Graduate Programs and Full Funding Awards. Fully funded PhD and funded Master’s programs are those that offer all or most students full funding at acceptance. I have always strongly recommended that applicants apply to fully funded programs so they can avoid the severe student debt that has created a financial crisis for current generations of students. Be sure to consider this option!
Dr. Vicki Johnson is the Founder and CEO of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, a top Ph.D. scholar, a Fulbright recipient, and an award-winning social entrepreneur. She is the Creator and Director of the Fully Funded Course and Mentorship Program for graduate school applicants seeking to find and win full funding.
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