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Pursuing an advanced education is a great investment for those who want to improve their credentials and build a more lucrative career in the field of their choice.
However, there are challenges they need to face when it comes to acquiring a graduate degree. This includes the cost that attending a graduate school entails. The cost of graduate programs can range between $30,000 to $120,000 and can primarily be affected by one’s choice of a degree, graduate school, and program duration.
Fortunately, prospective students have a wealth of opportunities that can help fund their graduate education. One of the best financial support they can find is securing a fellowship and/or traineeship. These financial aid options are specially designed to assist students in pursuing graduate programs that can boost their career growth and development.
Graduate students who wish to apply for a fellowship must know and understand the requirements, expectations, and coverage of this type of academic funding. It is important that they determine whether a fellowship is a right fit for their academic needs and career goals.
Understanding Graduate Fellowships and Traineeships
The first step to finding the right fellowship and traineeship opportunities for graduate students is understanding what this academic fund covers and how it can benefit them.
In a nutshell, a fellowship is a free grant offered by a university or an external institution to support students’ pursuit of graduate education by helping fund their studies or research. The grant aims to assist them in their training and education according to their capacity. A traineeship, meanwhile, is a form of a research fellowship awarded to students with the aim of helping graduate trainees acquire educational training in a particular discipline.
Both are designed to subsidize the cost of one’s graduate education. The award is given in the monetary form, often used by scholars to pay for their academic pursuits. Usually, a fellowship and traineeship are awarded in a merit-based system. The terms are more commonly used in graduate schools, although they can also be applicable in undergraduate institutions and other employment sectors.
Students who are entitled to this funding are those who have already completed their undergraduate degrees and are keen on pursuing additional education. Understandably, fellows are chosen based on their merit. Those with the potential to make an impactful and long-lasting contribution to their academic discipline can qualify for this financial assistance. Some graduate students may receive multiple fellowships.
So, what do fellowships and traineeships cover?
Most fellowships cover tuition costs. Others, however, also include funding for scholarly activities pursued beyond the classroom, including trips, projects, or dissertations. Some fellowships encompass expenses such as cost of living, health insurance, and in some cases, professional development and academic conferences.
Assistantships in Graduate School
This article is primarily about graduate fellowships, but it is also worth mentioning another type of award that is given to graduate students, the Graduate Assistantship. Like graduate fellowships, assistantships are also a form of award given to a certain number of graduate students, at the discretion of specific departments in universities, to help students finish their academic studies while reducing the costs of their education.
Also,, much like fellowships, awardees are expected to demonstrate a high degree of academic potential and submit applications that are well-formed, i.e., they also have to have an excellent academic inquiry they aim to pursue and they deserve the limited slot for the assistantship. In simple terms, graduate assistantships are just as competitive as graduate fellowships.
Types of Graduate Assistantship
There are a few types of Graduate Assistantships, the critical difference being the type of work graduate student recipients do within the department. Here are some of them:
Teaching assistants’ work is centered mainly around their department’s teaching activities. Teaching assistants can either play support roles to classes, such as helping prepare equipment and facilities, or helping prepare teaching material, and at times taking up teaching and facilitating roles themselves, i.e., delivering the coursework and lessons designed and overseen by professors.
A significant part of Universities’ activities, especially top-tier research universities, is dedicated to research and knowledge pursuit, aside from teaching-related activities. Research assistants contribute various supporting roles in this regard, with activities ranging from research design to data gathering, conducting experiments, data management, and more.
Some universities also have activities related to extension, and graduate students are given extension work participate in a variety of component activities work, such as community engagement/outreach and implementing advocacy projects. The activities students partake in may also relate to and/or contribute to the output of their own graduate academic work.
The Difference between Graduate Fellowships from Graduate Assistantships
Graduate fellowships and graduate assistantships are both subsidies that are awarded to students that help them continue their academic pursuits, and both are equally competitive, being awarded only to a select group of deserving students. Graduate assistantships, however, differ from graduate fellowships and traineeships when it comes to service requirements.
In a way, graduate assistantships are also treated as a form of employment. The specific arrangements vary between universities, sometimes even between departments, but Graduate assistantships have a service requirement, i.e. the work they perform in the areas they are assigned to.
Graduate fellowships tend to have none. Graduate assistants are compensated proportional to the amount of time they are required to put in, and graduate assistantships are generally taxable, while the monetary support that graduate fellows receive is in the form of stipends.
In line with their service requirement, graduate assistants are normally expected to devote a certain number of hours per week performing assistantship roles and tasks, and they may also be expected to be full-time students, i.e., devoting their time to their academic pursuits and not holding down other part-time jobs outside the University.
Difference between Assistantships and Fellowships from Scholarships and Grants
In some cases, students may be qualified to hold both a fellowship and an assistantship. The latter is financial aid given to full-time graduate students who are employed by the university on a part-time basis. They are entitled to compensation in exchange for services rendered to the graduate school they are enrolled in.
In a way, this financial aid option is a form of apprenticeship, allowing students not only to pay for their advanced education but also to gain professional development. They are equipped with skills and experience that can strengthen their academic performance and get the most out of the program.
In an assistantship, it is important that students take part in activities or work relevant to their program of study, contributing to and supporting the school’s instructional, research, and service programs. This means students taking part in an assistantship program can take on positions in academic and support service units.
While fellowships give students a chance to be awarded money for graduate school without being required to render a service, an assistantship works in a different way. Students who applied to an assistantship program and qualified must agree to work on campus. In a way, it is similar to a work-study program, except that assistantship programs require work related to a student’s area of study. This means getting research and teaching jobs.
On the other hand, scholarships and training grants are more common in undergraduate education. Scholarships are often based on merit or needs. The aid provided by a scholarship must be directly applied to tuition and related expenses. Scholarships may come from the government and private organizations. It typically provides more flexibility compared to fellowships as undergraduate students can avail of it without committing to a research study.
The Main Responsibility of Graduate Fellows
As said previously, graduate fellowships generally do not have service requirements, unlike graduate assistantships. Specifics and details of the arrangements vary between universities, but as a whole, the main responsibility of graduate fellows is to pursue the academic line of inquiry they applied to the program for and be devoted to this pursuit full-time.
In line with this, graduate fellows may also be expected to come up with original research aside from the necessary coursework that forms part of the specific graduate program.
Qualifying for Graduate Fellowships and Traineeships
Graduate fellowships are limited in number. Needless to say, the application process is competitive, and applicants are assessed on a number of factors, which can either be based on merit or need. At the very least, applicants to need-based fellowships must be able to sufficiently demonstrate financial need, as this is the primary operating condition of most need-based fellowships.
Merit-based applicants, meanwhile, generally have to fulfill a certain set of criteria to be considered. Fellowships are support mechanisms to let students continue their academic pursuits. A good way of looking at the eligibility of merit-based applicants is whether or not they have a clear idea of an academic inquiry they intend to carry out/pursue, i.e., students already have an idea that the Fellowship will be able to support and enable.
Students should not only qualify for the Fellowship but also maintain it. In line with their intended academic pursuit, graduate students must have significant professors who are able to serve as their faculty mentors, i.e., serve as expert guides that are able to support the graduate fellow’s academic inquiry and research activities. Students also have to maintain good academic standing and be enrolled for a certain number of minimum credits at the university.
Graduate fellowships also have administrative requirements that graduate student recipients are expected to keep on top of, such as periodic reports, accounting for expenditures of their fellowship stipend, or reporting other external sources of funding that a graduate student uses to supplement their research activity funding.
Benefits of Fellowships and Traineeships for Graduate Students
Graduate students who are thinking of applying for a fellowship or traineeship may want to weigh their options first before making up their minds. It is essential to know how this particular financial assistance can benefit them.
Here are some of the many advantages of acquiring a fellowship or traineeship grant.
Gain Hands-On Learning Experience
A fellowship gives graduate students access to advanced tools and technology that allow them to learn the job on the go. Since most graduate fellowships are structured in a way that fellows are exposed to a specific type of work or allow them to pursue a self-designed project, they are able to enrich their skills and knowledge. They will get the opportunity to participate in varied and exciting work while getting the support they need to finance their graduate education.
Fund Work and Travel Abroad
Experiencing living abroad can be such an enriching experience. Fellows are given a chance to get a professional placement abroad along with a monthly stipend, insurance, and transportation allowances. It is not uncommon to find graduate fellowships that support language training and in-country travel. Students also receive logistics support throughout their experience as a fellow abroad.
Enjoy Subsidized Education Costs
Some of the most useful benefits of a fellowship are the chance to acquire financial support for tuition and health benefits, often on top of a fellowship stipend. Unlike assistantships, a fellowship may not require fellows to render service to the university as teaching or research assistants. Students may need to meet the requirements set by the program, such as conducting directed research.
Build their Networking Circle
Another benefit of being a graduate fellow is getting the chance to meet professionals and other fellows in the field and learn from them. They can receive feedback from their peers and program managers, which can help a lot in strengthening their experience. They can also exchange ideas and learn from people from diverse cultures.
Receive Research Incentives
Most graduate fellowships offer incentives to students who wish to pursue their own research in a specific field. This provides them with financial assistance while allowing other foundations to support them in their endeavors.
Top Graduate Fellowships and Traineeships for Students
As one of the most prestigious awards available to graduate students at Cornell University, the Presidential Life Science Fellowship aims to promote broad and integrative inquiry through a novel platform. This is for first-year graduate students who wish to launch an integrated system for research and education, bringing together various fields of study such as molecular biology, organismal biology, computational sciences, social sciences, and many more.
The award selection process is done by a committee of the university’s most accomplished faculty. They review nominations from a wide variety of graduate fields, selecting the most promising students for the award. Students who are qualified to receive this Fellowship must have the ability to shape the future of life sciences research and education. They are expected to take advantage of the research and learning structure at Cornell.
Created through the New Life Sciences Initiative, this graduate fellowship is selective, which means there is a rigorous selection process in place. The nomination of students is at the discretion of the fields instead of self-nomination. All students can do is indicate their interest in the program either in their application for admission to their degree program or through email correspondence with the field director of graduate studies.
At Ohio State University, students can take advantage of the Patrick S. Osmer Fellowship. Interested students must be attending the Columbus campus and pursuing a graduate degree that was specified in the graduate fellowship award letter from the Dean of the Graduate School. It is important that fellows devote full-time to academic studies, meaning they must not hold other types of employment, fellowships, and traineeships.
The award covers two years of graduate study, the first and dissertation years. Students can expect to get their tuition, fees, and monthly stipend covered throughout the Fellowship. They are also entitled to an 85% health insurance contribution by Ohio State. Expenses like room and board, application fees, books, equipment, lab fees, and other personal expenses are not included in the graduate fellowship coverage.
Graduate students who managed to be selected for this graduate fellowship must make sure that conditions are met and maintained, or the Graduate school may terminate the fellowship support before the end of the award period.
The North Carolina State University offers the Molecular Biotechnology Training Program and Traineeships for graduate students who wish to enhance their research and graduate-level training in the field of molecular biotechnology. Students may participate if they are enrolled in an existing Ph.D. program at NC State. The traineeship is funded by an NIH Grant and matching funds from the university.
The selection process is done based on academic performance, which is usually after nomination by the faculty advisor, and with the MBTP Executive Committee’s approval. The award covers two years. It offers an annual traineeship stipend amounting to $25,836 per year. Students are entitled to a travel allowance worth $300 annually. The traineeship also includes an allowance for books, equipment, and supplies of about $1,600 per year. On top of these, students may also enjoy coverage of the in-state portion of tuition and health insurance.
Trainees are expected to participate in a capstone biotechnology course offering case studies. They will also work on a design project together with other students from different disciplines. They must join the faculty in attending various activities for professional development, such as the Annual Biotechnology Research Symposium.
American Anthropological Association (AAA) – Dissertation Fellowship for Historically Underrepresented Persons in Anthropology
A fellowship designed for minority doctoral candidates in anthropology, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) – Dissertation Fellowship for Historically Underrepresented Persons in Anthropology encourages members of radicalized minorities to complete doctoral degrees in anthropology.
The graduate fellowship is non-renewable. It is worth $10,000 to be provided annually to one anthropology graduate student. The selected student will also receive paid registration and reimbursement travel to the annual meeting from the Yolanda T. Moses Minority Travel Fund. To apply, one must be a member of a historically underrepresented US racialized minority group, including African Americans, Alaskan Natives, Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans.
It is important that interested students have a record of outstanding academic achievement and be a member of the American Anthropological Association. Their dissertation proposal must be approved by their dissertation committee before they lodge an application. Application requirements include a cover letter, research plan, official transcript, resume, disclosure statement, and bibliography of references, among others.
A prestigious fellowship of its kind, the Harold W. Rosenthal Fellowship in International Relations, is specially made for the country’s most outstanding and civic-minded students in international affairs. This program allows them to do summer work that involves solving some of the world’s national and global challenges. The award honors the memory of Harold Rosenthal, a senate staff member who fell victim to a terrorist attack while on official duty.
A select number of students are entitled to summer funding and job opportunities in congressional or executive offices. They will gain rich work experience that allows them to participate in orientation and roundtable discussions. Fellows of this program are selected according to their outstanding scholarly achievements, commitment to the study of international affairs, and demonstrated interest in public service. Student fellows will receive a summer stipend.
To be eligible for this graduate fellowship, students must have one year left in the international relations or international affairs graduate program. They can ask their career or placement office for an application and should not submit their application materials to the program directly.
Made for the nation’s best and brightest recent graduates with STEM backgrounds, the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship gives selected students a chance to teach in middle and high school science and math classrooms.
The graduate fellowship provides opportunities for students to be admitted to a master’s degree program at a partner university. They will get the necessary support to prepare for teacher certification in science, mathematics, or technology education. The graduate Fellowship also includes a $32,000 stipend with tuition arrangements. The latter, however, will vary depending on the partner universities. They will gain support and mentoring throughout their teaching commitment.
Fellows are expected to teach for at least three years in an urban or rural school district. Continuation as a teacher of record is contingent on completing the master’s degree and obtaining appropriate teaching licensure.
A highly selective, prestigious two-year training and leadership development program, the Presidential Management Fellowship was established by an executive order by Jimmy Carter in 1977.
It aims to attract outstanding citizen scholars from various academic disciplines who are interested in leadership and management excellence in public policies and programs. The program serves as the government’s pipeline for moving advanced degree students into government and leadership positions.
Every year, the program attracts more than 300 applicants. Participants can gain hands-on experience and classroom training throughout the paid graduate fellowship. Recipients have ample opportunities to join seminars and conferences. It is also part of the program for fellows to participate in 4 to 6 months’ worth of developmental assignments in another CDC program or at another external federal government agency.
The fellowship positions are at various CDC facilities, including the headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.
The National Science Foundation administers its Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF-GRFP), the oldest STEM graduate fellowship.
The GRFP is perhaps one of the most, if not the most prestigious, fellowship programs, boasting a roster of past fellows populated by individuals who have made significant contributions to scientific innovation, including 42 Nobel Laureates. More than 450 past fellows have also become National Academy of Sciences members.
The Fellowship provides three years of financial support for awardees and includes an annual stipend of $37,000 and $12,000 in education allowances for tuition and fees generally paid to institutions. NSF-supported graduate students also gain access to exclusive professional development opportunities. Applicants must be pursuing full-time research-based master’s or doctoral degrees in accredited US institutions in the following major fields of study:
- Life Sciences
- Computer Information Sciences & Engineering
- Materials Research
- Social Sciences
- Mathematical Sciences
- Physics & Astronomy
- STEM Education & Learning Research
The US Department of Energy (DOE) Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (CSGF) was created in the early 1990s as a unique multi-disciplinary program focused on supporting and nurturing leading professional scientists. It created anticipation of future shortages of skilled technology professionals due to rising demand. Presently, the program is jointly funded by the DOE’s Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration sub-agencies.
The CSGF program’s unique interdisciplinary structure sees students following a course of study that requires substantive work in the scientific or engineering disciplines, along with computer science and applied mathematics. Fellows to the program typically go on to join the industry, academia, the DOE, and other government laboratories that cover a broad range of over 30 critical disciplines, including astrophysics, bioinformatics, and nuclear engineering.
The program provides four years of total support to fellows, with a yearly stipend of $45,000, payment of tuition and required fees, an annual $1,000 professional development allowance, and a 12-week research practicum experience at any of the DOE’s 21 laboratories or sites, which includes access to DOE’s supercomputers. Among the eligible fields of study are the following:
- Applied Mathematics
- Chemical Engineering
- Computer Science
- Environmental Science
- Life Sciences
- Machine Learning
- Materials Science
- Mechanical Engineering
Established in 1989 through an act of Congress and administered by the Office of the Undersecretary for Research and Engineering, with funding from the Armed Forces, the Department of Defense offers the National Defense Science & Engineering Graduate Fellowship program. It is a competitive fellowship awarded to US Citizens, US Nationals, and US Dual Citizens at US Institutions.
The NDSEG Fellowship lasts three years and pays for the full tuition and all mandatory fees of fellowship awardees. They also receive an annual stipend of $38,400, $5,000 for a travel budget, and up to $1200 a year in health insurance.
Many disciplines/fields of study are eligible for the Fellowship, provided they meet the DoD’s Broad Agency Announcements (BAAs) in research and development. Among the included research areas are the following:
- Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering
- Biomedical Engineering
- Chemical Engineering
- Civil Engineering
- Cognitive, Neural, & Behavioral Sciences
- Computer and Computational Sciences
- Electrical Engineering
- Materials Science & Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Naval Architecture & Ocean Engineering
- Space Physics
Funded by the US Department of State, the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Graduate Fellowship administered by Howard University is a highly selective program. It offers awardees careers as Foreign Service Officers in the US Department of State, fulfilling various roles across various locations worldwide that support US values and interests.
Being highly selective, the program is open only to US Citizens. They must also be applicants to a two-year, full-time, on-campus master’s program at a US-based graduate institution focusing on Foreign Service, which includes the following:
- Public Policy
- International Affairs
- Public Administration
- Political Science
- Management Science
- Organizational Development/Leadership
- Regional Studies
The Program covers the two-year master’s degree period for tuition, room, board, books, and mandatory fees. The Fellowship includes the following:
- $24,000 per year for tuition and mandatory fees
- $18,000 academic stipend
As this program is primarily aimed at developing competent members of the Foreign Service, fellows must also agree to a service commitment to the Department of State Foreign Service for a minimum of five years.
The Pulitzer Center awards its Reporting Fellowships with its Campus Consortium network of partner institutions across the US. This unique and impactful Fellowship is awarded to students who desire to take on independent journalism projects featuring today’s most pressing issues in human rights, global health, women’s economic empowerment, food insecurity, peace and conflict, migration and refugees, climate change, and race and identity.
The Fellowship targets students as well as recent graduates of journalism schools, liberal arts colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, schools of public health, state universities, and community colleges. As the Pulitzer Center works with dozens of Campus Consortium partners for this Fellowship, the application process, requirements, and corresponding benefits depend on a particular partner campus. Applicants are thus directed to consult with a consortium partner institution of their choice.
American Association of University Women – American Fellowship Program
First established in 1888 against the backdrop of inequality that saw women largely discouraged from pursuing education, the American Fellowship Program is the most extensive fellowship program of the American Association of University Women. It is the oldest non-institutional graduate funding source for women scholars in the United States.
The Fellowship supports women scholars pursuing full-time study to complete dissertations, conducting full-time postdoctoral research, or preparing research for publication. It is open to US Citizens or permanent residents.
For applicants pursuing completion of their dissertations, the purpose of the Fellowship is primarily to offset their living expenses during their final year of writing their dissertation. The dissertation fellowship is a $25,000 award and is aimed toward traditional classroom-based programs as opposed to those heavily relying on distance learning components. There is no eligible field of study requirements. However, the AAUW highly encourages applicants engaged in STEM or gender-related studies.
University of California Irvine – Fletcher Jones Fellowship
The Fletcher Jones Fellowship is a need-based dissertation fellowship, one of the many fellowships available to students of UC Irvine, funded by the Fletcher Jones Foundation. It is a competitive and prestigious fellowship awarded to an outstanding doctoral student who has advanced to candidacy and can demonstrate financial need.
The Fellowship is intended as a stipend to assist with the awardees’ completion of their doctoral degrees. The Fellowship awards approximately $25,000. The nominations are based on the candidates’ academic achievements, communication skills, leadership, and interpersonal skills, and the likelihood of timely degree completion to adequately show financial need. The Fellowship is open to US Citizens or permanent residents.
American Psychological Association (APA) – Doctoral Fellowship in Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services (MHSAS)
The MHSAS is a federally funded program administered by the American Psychological Association (APA), funded through a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant. It aims to support doctoral studies in psychology at programs accredited by the APA.
Being one of the Minority Fellowship Programs of the APA, it is aimed at helping increase the number of psychologists from ethnic minority backgrounds who provide behavioral health services for ethnic minority populations.
The Fellowship is open to US Citizens, permanent residents, or non-citizen nationals. Given its aim of providing much-needed behavioral health services to often underserved ethnic minority populations in the country, candidates must also demonstrate a solid commitment to serving these communities. Likewise, they must also sign commitment letters for two years in roles that fulfill this purpose.
Graduate Fellowships, also referred to as Traineeships, are funding awards periodically given by universities to a select number of students. These awards are primarily meant to help students subsidize the usually high costs of graduate education and may cover various expenses like travel, books, supplies, and equipment.
Another type of subsidy/award given to graduate students is Assistantships, which may include Teaching Assistantships, Research Assistantships, Service Assistantships, and others. A key difference these have with Fellowships is that in the latter, there is generally no service requirement (e.g., teaching for a specific number of hours), and the former is treated more like a form of employment. Both are similar in that recipients are given a set of academic requirements and expectations that they have to deliver on.
Fellowships are generally merit-based (e.g., academic capacity/potential and financial need), and the slots for these are generally limited. These are, therefore, competitive, and while the benefits granted to graduate student recipients are substantial and highly beneficial, candidates for application are expected to step up their game to secure these sought-after awards.