Too often, students focus on scholarships only at the very beginning of the college journey. But a surprising number of opportunities awaits experienced college students and those going on to grad school. It’s definitely worth the effort to check out grants, fellowships, and others sources of aid to support advanced studies.
These kinds of awards aren’t just for academic performance. Some can also be seen as a form of marketing. After all, universities need grad students, and financial incentives are often part of the package.
What’s the difference between fellowships, assistantships, and grants?
Although the distinctions may sometimes be blurred, financial aid for grad students comes in several forms. Fellowships, scholarships, and grants may come with nothing expected in return (other than following guidelines such as thanking donors or maintaining good academic standing). Assistantships, on the other hand, may involve defined work responsibilities. For example, the recipient may be expected to teach one course per term, conduct research, or perform other duties. Most awards are based largely on academic accomplishments or potential, financial need, or a combination of the two. Other factors may range from the proposed program of study to geographical considerations, or religious or professional affiliations.
Just as a basic element of graduate study is research, conducting research is also a key strategy in any effort to obtain fellowships, scholarships, or other financial support. In fact, it may be the most essential ingredient to success; the more time you devote to seeking out possible sources of aid, the greater your odds of garnering financial assistance.
How to find graduate fellowships, assistantships, and other aid
The first place to explore is the university you will be attending (or any you are considering). A quick search of the school’s website will reveal key details about fellowships, assistantships, and other sources of aid. Check headings or use search terms such as “assistantships,” “fellowships,” “financial aid,” and “graduate.” You’ll find details such as the name of a given fellowship and dollar amount available, the application deadline, and forms that must be completed.
Next, identify third-party funding sources such as foundations, government agencies, corporations, and other organizations. Many offer awards to graduate as well as undergraduate students. Some are restricted to applicants from a given state or region, while others are open on a national or even international basis.
Also check out sources of funds that are local to you or involve some kind of personal or family connection. For example, some credit unions offer scholarships to members or their families. Community foundations, churches, civic clubs, and other organizations often offer scholarships as well. And though these awards may be more prevalent for incoming freshmen or undergrads, there really are scholarships not just open to graduate students but designed specifically for them.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of websites with info on scholarships, fellowships, and other financial aid (the CollegeXpress scholarship search is a good start!). You can also try looking on Fastweb, CollegeScholarships.org (which includes a section on grants for graduate school), and the College Grants Database.
Once you identify these financial aid possibilities, be aggressive in applying for them. The more applications you file for assistance in meeting grad school expenses, the greater your odds for success. And if you’re both diligent and lucky, you might even land multiple awards. While you can’t accept aid simultaneously from two different universities, you can combine different types of awards at one institution. For example, a scholarship from a company where you’ve worked part-time might enhance a fellowship offered by the school you will be attending.
And don’t forget that this process, though daunting, tends to get easier with time: once you’ve gathered info for any one application, the same details—or at least some of them—can be used repeatedly in other applications submitted to different funding sources. With so many sources of funds out there, it’s definitely in your best interest to pursue them.