If you are planning to apply to graduate school, you may have already started to investigate the options available to fund your studies. Graduate school tuition and fees can be crippling—and coupled with the fact that you may need to take time off from full-time work, it might be looking like a financial impossibility. There are several ways to finance your studies through fellowships and scholarships. However, navigating these options can be confusing. We’re here to help! Here’s what you need to know about graduate school funding.
Fellowships vs. Scholarships
Funding for graduate study at the master’s or doctoral level is typically called a “fellowship”, not a scholarship. But unlike a scholarship for tuition offered at the undergraduate level, a graduate fellowship may fund your graduate school tuition and provide you a stipend for living expenses. Graduate fellowship funding is commonly offered to doctoral students, while it is less commonly offered to master’s students. (For more on this, see “Master’s or PhD? My Advice – Follow the Funding“).
Internal vs. External Fellowships
There are two types of graduate fellowships that can be used to fund your tuition: internal and external. Internally, graduate schools sometimes offer full or partial merit-based fellowships to the top applicants. An example is the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program for top MBA students at Cornell University. Internal fellowships are sponsored by the school or department and sometimes are not openly advertised. You may have to submit an additional application component or apply to the graduate program early to be considered for these awards. Sometimes there is no additional application and all candidates are considered. The department may also offer needs-based tuition scholarships to some portion of applicants, but this is rare at the graduate level. To find information about the university department’s merit and needs-based internal funding opportunities, check the department’s website for prospective applicants.
There are also several external graduate fellowships offered by foundations, non-profits, companies and government agencies to fund a master’s or doctoral degree. Some examples include the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, the Frédéric Bastiat Fellowship, and the AAUW American Dissertation Fellowships.
You can find awards like these in the free ProFellow fellowships database. Under Fellowship Type, select “Graduate study” and/or “Doctoral study” to return graduate school fellowships. You can further filter by Discipline(s), Location and Citizenship Eligibility.
It is worth seeking out a combination of internal and external funding sources to increase your chances of securing the needed amount of financing. Here are some pointers to help you identify which types of graduate fellowships and scholarships would work best for you, and what you must know to secure them.
Graduate fellowships have early deadlines.
Both internal and external graduate fellowship deadlines typically fall between October and February. This means you need to apply to them at the same time you are applying to graduate schools. Sometimes prospective applicants make the mistake of looking into funding opportunities after they have completed and submitted all of their graduate school applications – this is too late! Begin your research on graduate school fellowships now so you don’t miss these critical deadlines.
Graduate fellowships may only fund one year of study.
When searching for the best fellowship to suit your needs, be sure to consider how many years of funding the fellowship offers. If it is only applicable for one academic year and you have a five-year PhD or even a two-year master’s program to finance, you could find yourself scrambling to make up the funding deficit. Having said that, getting at least your first year of academic study funded can be helpful in securing funding for the following years from both internal and external sources. Speak to past fellowship recipients to see if they were able to access extensions or different funding sources after their first year of funding.
There is more competition for external graduate fellowships.
If you are applying for an internal fellowship offered by a specific university, you are competing with a relatively small pool of applicants. Recipients of the internal fellowships will be selected from the small group of candidates that are offered a spot in the graduate program.
External fellowships, on the other hand, draw from a much larger crowd. Opportunities like the NSF Graduate Fellowships will have you competing with candidates from hundreds of universities, in various departments. This is no reason to steer away from applying to external fellowships, but external fellowships should not be your sole strategy for financing graduate school.
Because of these differences in competition, it is recommended that you consider applying to universities that offer internal fellowships to a good portion of accepted students. This entails doing as much research as you can into what universities have to offer. Information on the university’s website about financial aid and fellowships may be limited, so reach out to the department directly by phone or email. While speaking with staff and current students, find out how you can set up your graduate school application to be a competitive candidate. In addition to this, consider looking at smaller or lesser-known schools. You will find yourself competing with far fewer candidates for outstanding funding opportunities.
There is a vast array of opportunity available for graduate school funding. The trick is knowing where to find it, when to apply, and how to give yourself a competitive edge. Good luck!
© Victoria Johnson 2018, all rights reserved.