Secrets to Finding Graduate School Funding with Jonathan Lin Davis

May 02, 2019

If you are seeking to earn your master’s or doctoral degree but are uncertain how you are going to pay for this dream, you’re not alone. The good news is there are creative avenues to funding that can ensure that you not only spend your years as a graduate student focused primarily on your studies, but actually further your research aims through work experience that is relevant to your career goals.

Jonathan Lin Davis did exactly that. I recently did an online interview with Jonathan on YouTube about his strategic approach to securing graduate school funding to fully fund his dual master’s degree.  We’ve prepared some of the key takeaways from the interview here and you can watch the full interview with Jonathan at

Also see our related article What You Need to Know About Graduate School Fellowships and Scholarships.

Who is Jonathan Lin Davis?

Jonathan Davis is a Management and Research consultant with a really unique story to tell about how he managed to fund his graduate school experience. He was able to find and secure funding to complete his dual master’s degrees in Public Policy and Public Administration at the University of Texas —and did so in a manner that displayed initiative, rigor and originality. As a McNair scholar during his undergraduate degree in Political Science and Statistics at Texas Christian University, Jonathan had his eyes set on graduate school from early on. His inspiring story shows how he made it happen.

Read on to discover Jonathan top tips for securing funding for tuition and living expenses through university assistantships.

Jonathan’s Seven Secrets to Finding Graduate School Funding

#1 Develop relationships with the people at the universities who make the decisions about admissions and funding

As a McNair Scholar, Jonathan was primed to become a graduate student. As a result of being a participant in this program, he visited schools as an undergraduate, preparing him for the journey ahead. His advice to prospective students? Get acquainted with graduate schools as an undergraduate. Visit schools, meet faculty members, come into first-hand contact with those who will decide your future. As Jonathan says, “You can’t do that by simply applying to graduate schools […] You may certainly be accepted, but you miss out on a lot of the opportunities that might have otherwise been available.”

#2 Look for programs that offer assistantships or “full funding”

If you haven’t come across the term before, “full funding” is a funding source that pays for all or most of your tuition, books and materials, and provides you with an annual living allowance, or stipend, for the duration of your program. “They’re essentially paying you to go to graduate school,” as Jonathan describes. Essentially, it gives you the opportunity to focus on your studies rather than how you plan on paying for them. These full funding sources usually come in the form of a merit-based fellowship, offered to the top applicants, and graduate assistantships, which can be a programmatic, research or teaching assistantships. Assistantships are part-time research and teaching positions at universities that are offered to graduate students. These positions offer a stipend and in many cases, tuition remission. In some cases, these positions also offer other benefits like health insurance, housing and professional development funding. If you receive “full funding” from your university, it often is in the form of an assistantship.

#3 Seek out multiple funding sources

When Jonathan was preparing for graduate school, he already had some funding from the McNair Scholar program. This did not stop him from seeking out more. Why did he choose this avenue rather than sitting back and enjoying the funding he had already received? Well, he was looking for ways to make his graduate school experience as financially pain-free as possible.

Jonathan is a researcher and, when it came to understanding the specifics of what his funding source offers, he did what he does best and researched it in depth. The Admissions office expressed to incoming students that it was inadvisable to seek employment to supplement your student income. Rather than accepting this statement, Jonathan asked whether that meant that he wasn’t allowed to work at all. The response was that it was not recommended, but it was possible. That was all the permission he felt he needed to seek other sources of funding – so he did just that! His mantra is, “unless they specifically tell me I can’t do something, I am going to do it if it’s in my best interest.”

His next step ties in perfectly with Secret #4:

#4 Sniff out where funding exists in the university

Through his research, Jonathan was able to discover that the tenured faculty, for example, have pots of funding that can be tapped into, especially tenured faculty who direct formal or informal research institutes or groups at the university. Have a look at your prospective institutions and identify where funding may exist—even if it’s not specifically allocated to graduate students. How was he able to decipher where the money was lying? Jonathan suggests:

  • Know your university. Jonathan knew that the University of Austin is a Tier 1 university, meaning it’s one of the wealthiest universities in the USA.  
  • Know the professorial track. Tenured professors, for example, typically have more access to discretionary funding than Associate professors, Lecturers and other staff.
  • Find institutes within the university. Depending on your field, locate relevant institutes that correspond with your graduate work—especially those run by tenured professors.

#5 Apply at Departments and Institutes in the university where you want to work—regardless of whether there is a position posted

Research and programmatic institutions within the university have money. Just because they have not advertised a particular position, doesn’t mean they won’t hire someone to help them achieve their goals. Approach the places where you want to work as a Teaching or Research Assistant. You don’t know whether or not there is a place for you until you have asked! In conjunction with providing your resume and background information, describe why you have the right skills and experience to help them achieve their research or programmatic.

Here’s how Jonathan perfected his pitch:

  • Highlight that you can work independently. It’s important that the institute understand that they won’t have to hold your hand in any way, which creates more work for them.
  • Show that you understand what is needed in the organization you are applying to. This means doing your research about what their mandate is, the kind of work they do, and how you think you can contribute to furthering their aims.
  • Explain why your skills and experience are a value-add to their organization.

Also keep in mind:

  • Assistantships are NOT financial aid, they are jobs. Like any job, your financial need will not be a factor in whether they choose to hire you, so don’t bother to mention how badly you need the money in your pitch.
  • You should seek Assistantships and other funding opportunities as early as possible, while you are applying. If you are applying to graduate school in the fall, that same fall you should be searching for posted assistantship positions and opportunities to pitch your skills. Don’t wait until acceptance to begin this search and relationship-building.

#6 Seek out assistantships that align with your career goals

You should seek assistantships that help you achieve your long-term goals. If you want to go into academia and your plan is to aim for tenure, aTeaching Assistant position will provide you critical teaching experience. Likewise, graduate research assistantships will give you added experience in research if you are planning to pursue post-doctoral research fellowships or research positions after your degree. There are also programmatic assistantships where you may do administrative work like event planning and communications. These can help you fund your degree, but this work experience might not be as useful on your resume as teaching and research, so keep this in mind if you are choosing among opportunities.

#7 Although starting early is ideal, it’s not too late

Because many of these positions don’t necessarily exist, and if they do, don’t have formal application calls, you can apply whenever you like. If you have just received your acceptance letter and are not sure how you are going to fund your studies, get to work right away seeking out these opportunities. The most ideal time frame is to apply a semester before you begin your studies so as to correspond with university funding cycles. In addition, the sooner you get going, the more chance you have at getting a timeous response and beating the rush.

Typical response times are approximately three weeks to hear back, and six weeks or more to get an interview—so the sooner you get going, the better.

Watch the full interview

If you would like to watch the full interview with Jonathan, you can do so right here.

Good luck with your funding search!