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Finding & Applying to Scholarships for Grad School

July 26, 2021 · 7 minute read

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Finding & Applying to Scholarships for Grad School

Scholarships can be a helpful resource to pay for grad school. The tricky part can be tracking the right scholarship down and applying. Scholarships are available through many different avenues, including states, organizations, nonprofits, companies, and more.

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 common scholarships and grants for prospective graduate students.

Graduate School Scholarships & Grants

Federal and state governments offer a variety 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.

Federal Scholarships & Grants

Some federal grants are only available for undergraduate 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 participating universities. 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 was $6,495 for the 2019-2020 school year. Apply via the FAFSA.

Fulbright Grants

The US 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 75 study/research grants available, the program lasts for 10 months, and it’s recommended participants speak German at the beginner level. 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 . Students may also apply for the Critical Language Enhancement Award in addition to their original Fulbright Grant.

Finding Additional Federal Grants

There are even more grants offered by other federal institutions and departments. For a comprehensive search, take a look through Grants.gov or the US Department of Labor’s database. On these sites, students can specify their search by things like their program, field of study, or other qualifiers.

Both federal and state scholarships will generally require students complete the FFree Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to apply. Before taking additional steps, filling out the FAFSA may be a good first step because it is used to help determine federal aid, scholarships, and grants.

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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.

Your Neighborhood

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.

Your Background

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 $3,500 for their graduate studies.

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.

The Beinecke Scholarship

This scholarship is available for students who are pursuing the arts, humanities, or social sciences. Those awarded the scholarship, 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. Award amount is $20,000.

•  The Frank L. Greathouse Government Accounting Scholarship for full-time accounting students. Award amount is $10,000.

•  The Minorities in Government Finance Scholarship for part- or full-time minority students. Award amount is $10,000.

•  The Government Finance Professional Development Scholarship for part-time students. Award amount is $10,000.

•  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

The NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship is for athletes who have attended an NCAA member institution for their undergraduate studies. Students must be in their 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 per each sports season, 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, 2013, 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 their applying for their Graduate Student Research Grant may open up some opportunities. The GSA awarded 360 students money in 2020, with over 50% of students receiving aid. The average grant amount was over $1,820.

These are only a few avenues to consider when looking for private graduate school scholarships. Databases and search engines can help, but don’t be afraid to get creative.


Unlike a grant or scholarship, fellowships are money typically tied to an opportunity. Those who get a fellowship, likely have to meet requirements to study, research, or work in a field for a short period. Not only will fellowships help students pay for graduate school, but they can also be a valuable opportunity to gain relevant experience.

Finding a fellowship will be specific to your field of study. One place to start your search process is 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. Consider focusing on scholarships and grants before student loans. You don’t have to repay scholarships and grants when you graduate or even if you leave school before finishing. Student loans on the other hand will have to be paid back. If you’re applying for federal or private loans, it’s worth noting that the process is different from 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 US 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, another option is to try researching private student loans. Rather than being provided by the government, these loans come from private businesses, banks, and colleges. Students should focus on private student loans as a last resort, as private student loans lack the borrower protections afforded to federal student loans.

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-fee private student loans to help you pay for school. SoFi makes the process simple—so paying for school may be less stressful.

The Takeaway

There are a wide array of grants and scholarships available for students pursuing graduate school. These include those offered by federal and state governments, individual schools, and other interest groups like nonprofit organizations. To find grants and scholarships, students can review online databases, speak with the financial aid office at their school, and fill out the FAFSA each year.

SoFi offers graduate school loans with competitive interest rates. See what options you could qualify for in just a few minutes.

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