Back to school, and back into student loan debt? Not so fast. Pursuing a graduate degree can have an excellent return on investment and enrich your educational experience, but it doesn’t necessarily have to send you into a student loan debt spiral. Getting money for graduate school doesn’t have to be as challenging as getting the degree itself.
You can try supplementing the cost of graduate school with scholarships. Turning to scholarships to help fund grad school can be a smart way to subsidize your education. The tricky part can be tracking the right scholarship down and applying. It’s back to the books and back to scholarship applications. In this article, we’ll discuss finding and applying to graduate school scholarships.
Scholarships are available through many different avenues, including states, organizations, nonprofits, companies, and more. Scholarships are typically merit-based and typically don’t need to be paid back. But to get one, you’d need to first apply.
Don’t let the cost immediately scare you off, though. Not only can you work while you attend grad school, but there are numerous graduate school scholarships and grants to make higher education more affordable.
Grants and scholarships are similar in that they’re both gift aid you don’t typically have to repay after graduation. The main difference is that scholarships are typically merit-based, while grants are need-based.
Let’s look at some of the most common scholarships and grants for prospective graduate students.
Graduate School Scholarships & Grants
Federal and state governments offer a lot of grants and scholarships for graduate students. While scholarships and grants are similar in that they are often considered “gift aid”, many grants can come with need-based stipulations.
When applying for any scholarship or grant, it’s important to read the fine print to make sure to qualify and can hold up your end of the bargain if you are indeed awarded the money. Here are a few common options for graduate students.
State Scholarships & Grants
To find scholarships and grants at the state level, you can try contacting your state’s Department of Education for assistance and resources. Scholarships and grants vary state by state.
For an organized look at state-level financial aid options, you can check out SoFi’s Financial Aid 101 series, which covers state-level scholarships, grants, and forgiveness programs. Each state page supplies the resources and contact information for individual programs that can help make tuition a bit less painful.
Federal Scholarships & Grants
The federal scholarship and grant application process is a little more streamlined than the state process. However, only some of these grants are available for graduate school programs.
For example, graduate students do not qualify for Pell grants, except for post-baccalaureate certification programs. Again, paying close attention to the qualifications for a grant before applying is crucial.
There are several types of federal grants available:
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants
TEACH grants are available to graduate students at many universities (make sure your school is involved in the program before applying). This is a federal grant awarded to students who intend to teach in high-need fields, including bilingual education, foreign language, special needs, reading specialist, mathematics, and science, as well as any other field the government considers high-need.
The grant offers up to $4,000 a year for students who intend to teach after their studies. To apply, fill out the FAFSA® and read the government’s requirements carefully. You must take certain types of classes, and you have to accept a specific kind of job after graduation, otherwise, the grant will turn into a loan you have to pay back.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
This federal grant is for graduate students with a parent who died serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The grant amount is the same as the maximum amount of a Federal Pell Grant award for that year, which is $6,195 for the 2019-2020 school year. You can fill out the FAFSA to apply.
Have you always wanted to live in Australia? How about Botswana, Ukraine, or Sweden? The U.S. Department of Education provides Fulbright Grants for graduate students to study and research in designated countries abroad.
When you visit the Fulbright website, click on your country of interest to view the details. For example, in Germany, there are 65 study/research grants available, the program lasts for 10 months, and you should speak at least beginner German. In Iceland, there are only three grants available, the program lasts nine months, and there is no foreign language requirement.
The program also offers a number of specialty grants, including the Fulbright-Fogarty Awards in Public Health and Fulbright-National Geographic Storytelling Fellowship . You may also apply for the Critical Language Enhancement Award in addition to your original Fulbright Grant.
There are even more grants offered by other federal institutions and departments. For a comprehensive search, you can look through Grants.gov or the U.S. Department of Labor’s database. On these sites, you can search for your program, field of study, or other qualifiers.
Both federal and state scholarships will require you to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to apply. Before you take any additional steps, you may want to start by filling out the FAFSA, which is used to determine federal aid, scholarships, and grants.
Private Graduate Scholarships & Grants
When it comes to finding money for grad school, there are plenty of organizations, companies, and nonprofits that offer scholarship opportunities. The scholarships could be merit-based, need-based, or simply granted based on your affiliation or application.
Some scholarships are on the smaller side, others much larger, but any amount of aid can help. You may want to consider these elements while you’re on the hunt for private scholarships for graduate school:
Your College or University
Your school might offer merit-based scholarship or grant opportunities. Possible action item: connecting with your department, as well as the office of financial aid to see if you qualify for some scholarship from the school and what additional steps you may need to take to apply.
Your Course of Study
You may be able to find scholarships related to your field of study . Possible action item: searching national foundations, or even companies that might provide a scholarship. This might be especially helpful in STEM fields, or other careers where there’s a high need for employees in the workforce.
Are you involved in any community organizations? Possible action item: seeing if your religious organizations, local civic groups, and other community organizations you belong to offer scholarships. You could reach out to see what may be available and perhaps complete the necessary applications.
Based on your ethnicity or cultural heritage, you may be able to qualify for several grants. Possible action item: reaching out to national foundations or local community groups to see what they offer.
Some specific private scholarships and grants include:
Greek Life Scholarships
Contrary to what society may think, enrolling in a fraternity, sorority, or other Greek organization has more benefits than the wild parties. Many Greek organizations reward their high-achieving members and alumni who pursue master’s degrees.
For example, members of Alpha Chi Rho could receive up to $3,000 for their graduate studies. Kappa Delta awards up to $5,000 to members attending graduate school, and women can receive up to two Kappa Delta scholarships in their lifetime.
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship
The Truman Scholarship is for students who want to make a difference in society. If you’re pursuing a degree such as Master of Public Administration, Master of Education, or Master of Social Work, and you have significant community service experience, you could qualify for the Truman Scholarship.
To apply, you must be a junior in college or third-year students with senior standing. Between 55 and 65 students receive the Truman Scholarship per year, each receiving $30,000.
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The Beinecke Scholarship
This scholarship is available for students who are pursuing the arts, humanities, or social sciences. In 2019, 18 students received the Beinecke Scholarship . If you’re awarded the scholarship, you’ll receive $30,000 while in graduate school, as well as an additional $4,000 before starting school.
Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Scholarships
GFOA Scholarships are for graduate students intending to pursue a career in state or local finance. The association offers five types of scholarships to eight to 11 students.
The five kinds of graduate school scholarships are as follows:
• The Goldberg-Miller Public Finance Scholarship for full-time students.
• The Frank L. Greathouse Government Accounting Scholarship for full-time accounting students.
• The Minorities in Government Finance Scholarship for part- or full-time minority students.
• The Government Finance Professional Development Scholarship for part-time students.
• The Jeffrey L. Esser Career Development Scholarship for part-time students who have already worked in state or local finance for at least three years.
• Scholarship amounts range from $5,000 to $15,000.
NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship
Are you a student-athlete? The NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship is for athletes who have attended an NCAA member institution for their undergraduate studies. As of 2019, 1,115 colleges are member schools . It doesn’t matter how long ago you graduated with your bachelor’s, but you must be at least in your final year of undergraduate athletics to apply.
The distribution of graduate school scholarships is unique. Three times per year (autumn, winter, spring) the NCAA gives scholarships to 21 men and 21 women, for a total of 126 scholarships per year. This timeline splits up candidates based on the sports they play. Each scholarship is $10,000.
American Association of University Women
This is an example of a grant offered by a private organization rather than the federal government. The grant is specifically for women, and you must have received your most recent degree before June 30, 2014, to qualify.
The Career Development Grant recipients will receive between $2,000 and $12,000 for graduate school.
The Geological Society of America Grant
If you’re going into geological research, joining the Geological Society of America (GSA) and applying for this grant opens up a ton of opportunities. The GSA awarded 381 students money in 2018, with over 50% of students receiving aid. The average grant amount was over $2,000.
When you apply, you’re automatically considered for the ExxonMobil Student Research Grant, a $5,000 grant awarded to the top 10 candidates. You can also indicate on your application if you’re interested in other specialized grants the GSA may have available.
Fellowships are also great ways to find money for graduate school. Unlike a grant or scholarship, fellowships are money typically tied to an opportunity. If you get a fellowship , it’s likely you’ll be required to study, research, or work in a field for a short period. Not only will fellowships help you pay for graduate school, but they can also be an opportunity to gain valuable experience in your field.
Finding a fellowship will be specific to your field of study. You can start your search process by talking to your academic department for assistance, or finding a nonprofit institution specializing in your field of study. Applicants should be aware that fellowships typically require a fairly rigorous application process.
Using Student Loans to Cover Grad School
Scholarships and grants aren’t the only options for paying for graduate school. You may also choose to take out student loans.
After you receive grants and scholarships, it’s possible to fill in the gaps with financial aid for graduate school. Or if you struggle to receive gift aid, student loans might be able to cover the full cost of enrollment.
You may want to look into scholarships and grants before financial aid, because you don’t have to repay them when you graduate or even if you leave school before finishing, while you do have to pay back student loans.
If you’re applying for federal or private loans, it’s worth noting that the process is different than applying for undergraduate loans. You can borrow more as a graduate student, but you might be looking at higher interest rates.
As a graduate student, you may qualify for a Direct PLUS Loan through the U.S. Department of Education. To qualify, you must be enrolled at least half-time and not have an adverse credit history.
If you don’t receive enough financial aid through a Direct PLUS Loan or want to search for other loan options, you could try researching private student loans. Rather than being provided by the government, these loans come from private businesses, banks, and colleges.
Other than taking on student loans, there are several alternatives to funding your graduate degree. If you’re able to work while attending school, you can save and budget to cover a portion or all of your tuition.
If you are working, you can speak with your employer to see if they offer a tuition reimbursement program. Employee tuition reimbursement might require you to stay at the company for a number of years, or pursue a specific degree. Program requirements will vary by company.
If you do decide that taking out a private student loan is right for you, check out SoFi. SoFi offers no-free private student loans to help you pay for school. SoFi makes the process simple—so paying for school is stress-free.
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