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Paying for graduate school can be one of the most challenging tasks for incoming students. The average debt of graduates from public colleges in 2018 was $25,500. Graduates from nonprofit or for-profit colleges have even higher average debt that they are immediately required to start paying off as soon as they graduate.
Thankfully, income-based repayment plans, as well as low interest rates, help graduates to successfully make huge dents in their school debt. However, taking advantage of the numerous fellowships, awards, and grants that are available to graduate students will assist them in keeping their debt to a minimum while still acquiring a higher degree.
Fellowships are offered in two basic types: internal and external. Graduate schools that offer fellowships within a program would be offering internal fellowships. These can be fully funded fellowships or partial fellowships.
Fully funded fellowships cover all of the graduate tuition as well as offer a stipend for living expenses. Although these fellowships are more often offered to doctoral students, master’s students can also be awarded a fully funded fellowship for the duration of their degree. Sponsored by the department or the school, a fully funded fellowship is merit-based and usually awarded at the time of acceptance into a program.
Often applications for these fellowships are built into the application package. However, sometimes an additional application is required. Keep in mind that often these applications have a fairly early deadline and a limited amount of applicants will be able to receive them. So, applying early will give you a better chance of receiving a fellowship of any kind.
Partial merit-based fellowships are also awarded to students upon their acceptance at a university. Although they don’t cover as much as a full fellowship, a partial scholarship can still be of great assistance in getting through graduate school. Also, accepting a partial fellowship for one’s first year of education can put a student in a good place to apply for a full fellowship the next year.
Each graduate school may have its own fellowships to offer incoming students. For example, the University of South Carolina offers a Trustee Recruiting Fellowship which grants graduate students a one-time award in memory of individuals who have influenced an area of study at the university.
USC, along with many other schools, also offers a fellowship for underrepresented minority students. Checking the website of a graduate school for various fellowships offered will assist applicants in discovering internal fellowships offered by the school or program.
External fellowships are granted by non-profit organizations, foundations, or the government and help students fund their master’s or doctoral degree programs. Doing an internet search, checking fellowship databases, or even asking at your place of work may turn up some unexpected external fellowships that may be available to you while you pursue higher education. External fellowships are even more competitive than internal scholarships so looking for these early is best.
Because scholarships based on financial need are much rarer at the graduate level, preparing to receive a merit-based fellowship at the graduate level will be more successful. Combining internal and external fellowship opportunities can be a good way to fund higher studies.
Researching the opportunities for a fellowship before or at the beginning of an application process is the best way to receive a fellowship.
Assistantships are one of the primary ways that graduate students pay for their education. Part-time research assistantships give graduate students the ability to work with professors, gaining valuable work experience while completing their master’s or doctoral studies. Research assistantships are usually awarded to those who are in research-based degree programs rather than professional doctoral graduate programs.
Some research assistantships offer a stipend and many offer tuition remission. Research assistantships may also offer students benefits such as health insurance or housing. Fully funded research assistantships can offer up to $40,000 a year, although most offer around $20,000 to $25,000 annually.
Student research assistants are responsible for engaging in various research projects supervised by faculty in the department. Research assistants collect and verify data, interpret and document findings, assist with translation projects, write research reports, and improve research strategies. They must develop their communication and organizational skills as well as be good at multi-tasking and interpreting data within a time frame.
Teaching assistantships are awarded in a similar way to research assistantships. Some teaching assistantships are fully funded and some are partially funded. Teaching assistantships can be difficult to maintain while also keeping up one’s studies in graduate school.
Often requiring a commitment of up to 20 hours a week, being a TA gives students an immense amount of experience and ability that will translate into their future careers. Graduate teaching assistants help professors to conduct study groups, grade papers, and prepare teaching materials. Sometimes graduate teaching assistants, especially at the doctoral level will teach their own course with guidance from a professor.
Like scholarships, students are not required to pay back grants. Grants are usually based on need rather than on merit, making them ideal for graduate students who don’t initially have a high enough GPA to receive a scholarship or fellowship.
Some grants are oriented around specific educational areas such as nursing or teaching. These grants can assist vocational areas to develop more highly qualified professionals. Technical studies or a specialized health care degree may be more likely to have grants available.
Other types of grants can be available for minorities or other groups with a specific cause. Asian, Native American, or African American graduate students may be able to tap into graduate grants that promote higher education for minority groups. Grants from women may also be available in order to increase the enrollment of female students in graduate school.
Serving in the military or having served in the military can also provide grants for graduate school. The military provides educational grants for service men and women and their families.
Another grant to consider is a first-generation grant. If you are the first college student in your family, you may be eligible for a first-generation college or graduate school grant.
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) is a federal organization that offers grants to students who study in high-demand teaching fields.
Fulbright Grants are also offered by the federal government. They are awarded to students who study internationally, in order to promote the international exchange of ideas. Fulbright programs issue almost 2,000 grants a year to students studying in over a hundred other countries.
The National Science Foundation is a federal organization created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…” The National Science Foundation provides a list of programs that receive funding from the NSF for eligible students.
Each state may offer state-funded grants to students entering specific areas of study in graduate school. Be sure to check state websites for available state grants. Some grants may be offered by the state, others are offered by private organizations. State grants may assist low-income graduate students as well as special studies in the sciences or other academic areas.
Each university has awards that are available to graduate students entering their program or department. Types of awards that may be available are:
- Alumni Award – These awards are granted to students who have already completed a degree at a university and are accepted into a graduate degree program at the same university.
- Research Grant – Schools may offer a unique research grant for a specific or new area of research of 1-4 years.
- Public Interest Scholarship – Some graduate schools may offer a scholarship to study or research an area of public interest such as global warming.
- Area of Study Grant – Graduate schools may offer unique grants and scholarships in a specific area of study. Be sure to check the department website for unique grants that may be available in your study subject.
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