Middle-Eastern man in turban and woman in button-up shirt looking at tablet

How to Find Fellowships and Grants for Grad School

If you can secure them, fellowships and grants are the next best way to fund your graduate education after scholarships. Here's what to know about finding them.

Grants or fellowships are great ways to defray the cost of graduate school. Unlike loans, money from grants and fellowships is yours free and clear; it will not add to your debt. And not only do they help you pay for your education—grants and fellowships look good on a résumé and can open doors for future research activity and career prospects. However, as you would expect, competition for these funds can be stiff.

If you're trying to decide which is better, a grant or a fellowship, you should know this: they are basically the same thing. In most cases, the difference is really just the word; each organization and institution chooses what to call their offers of aid. So as you consider these options, it’s best not to get too hung up on the official terminology. There are three main things to think about as you consider applying for grants and fellowships: research to find the best opportunities, prepare yourself and the application, and make a decision about where to focus your research or studies.

Research opportunities based on your interests

First things first: what do you want to do with your time and talents? Before applying for funding, you need to research your options and identify the best for you, based on your field of study and specific interests within that field. What organizations offer grants or fellowships relevant to your studies, and which ones should you go after? There's no real clearinghouse for grants and fellowships, though there are sites that provide information about both of these types of funding.

In general, the best place to start is the schools and individual academic department where you will be studying. They will have information about relevant grants and fellowships. Sometimes this is part of the general financial aid department and sometimes it is a dedicated grants or fellowship office, depending on the school. In addition, federal government entities (like the National Institutes of Health or the Department of Energy) offer grants and fellowships, as do state governments. And many private companies and organizations, such as the Microsoft or the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, offer grants or fellowships for students pursuing particular academic interests.

Related: Choosing the Right Graduate Degree for Your Goals

Thoroughly prepare your applications early

Once you’ve identified a core list of programs to apply for, it takes time to create a thorough application that demonstrates why you are the best candidate for the grant or fellowship. Much like scholarships, grants and fellowships are awarded based on merit and the field of study. The reviewers will be looking for information about a student’s academic achievement and interests, as well as his or her ability to articulate research or study goals and a method to attain the specific objectives spelled out in the funding guidelines—which you should read thoroughly. And more than once. This means you have to start preparing weeks, if not months, before the deadline in order to gather all the information you need. Truly, once you decide to apply for graduate school, you should already be on the lookout for grant and fellowship opportunities. Then, once you are accepted, you should start the application process. Once you know exactly what is expected and required of you in the application, you can invest the time needed to complete it thoughtfully and thoroughly.

What to expect to submit

Each organization has different requirements for grants and fellowships. but all of them expect a lot of information from you and a well-written proposal. Expect to need to submit an official application form, proposal or prospectus, project budget, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and undergraduate and/or graduate transcripts. The good news is that awarding organizations will tell you what they need, and quite often you can find examples of successful proposals to guide you as you create your own application.

Discover and declare your study focus

As part of the process of finding the grants or fellowships you want to apply for, you'll have to determine the focus for the research or studying you want to do. Some people come to graduate school with a specific and narrow focus already in mind. That’s great. But if that’s not you, you’ll have to do some research to determine a focus. For many people, a good place to start is learning about what others in the field have done so you can understand how your research will to the field. It's also important to do a literature review to identify trends in the industry or field. Once you identify the best idea, the one that's the perfect mix of what you want to do and what the foundation or organization wants to fund, it’s time to focus your research on building up the best case for your application. In addition to reading the literature, make sure to talk to your professors and others in the field for guidance.

Related: How Does Financial Aid Differ for Graduate Students?

Because they are competitive and require such rigorous application procedures, grants and fellowships are one of the best ways to fund your graduate studies. Not only do they help you pay for school, they put you on the right path for a strong career once you have your degree in hand.

Our Scholarship Search tool isn’t just for finding scholarships—you can find listings for graduate grants and fellowships too. Get searching!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Laura Wallace

Laura Wallace

High School Class of 2019

My favorite part of CollegeXpress is that it features student writers so I get an inside perspective from students slightly older and farther along than me. I realize that other college websites also utilize student writers; however, I relate the most to the college writers that I read articles from on CollegeXpress.

Carlie Cadet

Carlie Cadet

High School Class of 2019

CollegeXpress has helped me learn about an abundance of scholarships available to me and my situation. I was able to do research for colleges in my best interest with your website. I've had multiple colleges email me and offer me multiple scholarships and things of that nature because of this website! Thank you so much for uploading scholarships I didn’t even know existed, even if my life took a huge turn and I wasn’t able to go to college straight out of high school. CollegeXpress helped me a lot in high school to be even more motivated to get into my dream college (which I did, by the way). I'm looking forward to using the materials CollegeXpress has kindly provided me for free to look for scholarships to help pay for college.

Kory Gilbertson

Kory Gilbertson

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me explore my views on college in that "why do I wanna go to a certain school" way. It’s helped me explore the best fits in all of these outstanding choices. All these college admission counselors can access my accolades showing them how I could help their college. This source of information helps me show these admission directors who I am and what I'm interested in. Thanks to this platform, my experience for education will be better than most, and I'm so grateful for all that it has provided for me.

Hailey Riddile

Hailey Riddile

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me find scholarships to apply for and look into more colleges. While there are many websites similar to CollegeXpress, every website is different, and I've found a lot of good insight on this website. Receiving emails from CollegeXpress about scholarships is extremely useful, and getting insight about colleges near, far, and anywhere in between helps me narrow down my choices to what I want, which is also super helpful. The articles are always really good reads, and I can't stress enough how helpful this website has been to me. Anything related to college is beneficial to me as a senior, and I have learned lots of useful things to help me on my college journey this year.

Abhishek Kumar

Abhishek Kumar

High School Class of 2022

As a high schooler, I know how hard it is to plan for college. You have to consider a lot of factors: SAT/ACT scores, college searches, scholarships, and more. CollegeXpress has been a helpful resource that solves all these problems. One can easily create a free account and search away. They help you search for scholarships and colleges, they have graduate program search, they have lists and rankings, and so much more. CX also has a lot of articles and advice to read—whether it’s financial aid, test prep, campus visits, internships/careers, or anything. Not only that, CX gives out free scholarship money to students who sign up and create a free CX account. I love CX and will continue to use it! Thank you CollegeXpress for making my college journey easier!

College Matches