Don Martin | Grad School Road Map
Graduate school is a great way to continue your education, but it often comes with a big price tag. Fortunately, you don’t always need to pay for it out of pocket. There are ways to find free money, like scholarships and grants, to help ease the costs of grad school.
How to find scholarships for graduate school
Scholarships aren’t only for high school students and undergraduates. Hundreds of companies and organizations are handing out graduate school scholarships, sometimes referred to as fellowships. While you can search for scholarships directly with local organizations, there are also a number of scholarship search engines that compile hundreds of scholarships in one place.
A few good grad school scholarship search engines include:
- Fastweb. A leader in scholarship searches, Fastweb features scholarships and grants for graduate students. After you register, you can search based on your year, major and interests.
- GoGrad. Once you register with GoGrad, you can search based on where you’re going to school, your gender, your military affiliation and more.
- Sallie Mae’s Graduate School Scholarships. Once you register for free, you’ll have access to $1 billion in graduate school scholarships.
- Scholarships.com. Even though most of the scholarships available here are for undergraduates, there are lots of options for grad students. After you create your free profile, you can put what level of schooling you’ve completed or search for scholarships.
- Unigo. Browse by your intended major, like law, business or medicine. You can also search based on merit or need, or look into fellowship programs.
How to find grants for graduate school
Like scholarships, grants are a type of funding that doesn’t need to be repaid. However, grants are more likely to require some form of financial need. There are multiple types of grants for grad school, including:
- Federal grants. If you’re going into teaching, you may qualify for a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant, and teachers pursuing postbaccalaureate certification may qualify for a federal Pell Grant. Fulbright Grants are also available for a variety of disciplines. To see what type of aid may be available, you’ll need to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.
- State grants. Most states set aside funds for graduate school grants, which may be distributed according to need or merit. As with federal grants, these are typically made available once you submit the FAFSA.
- School grants. Many schools have grants available for students with financial need or those pursuing specific degrees. For instance, Michigan State University offers fellowship programs for graduate students enrolled in a doctoral or master’s of fine arts program. Contact the financial aid department or graduate department of your school to ask about details.
- Grants from private organizations. You may also search for grants directly from private organizations, such as the American Association of University Women. Some require you to join the organization first, which usually costs a fee. If you’re only joining the organization for the award, first make sure that the grant is offered to grad students.
Tips for applying for grad school scholarships and grants
It’s usually best to seek funding from a variety of sources, but doing so can get unwieldy fast. Consider these tips as you begin applying for grad school scholarships and grants.
Keep a spreadsheet
Before starting your search, create a spreadsheet where you can keep track of which aid you’ve applied for. Log as much award information as possible, including:
- Scholarship name.
- Award amount.
- Deadline to apply.
- Documents needed.
- If it’s recurring or a one-time award.
- Fees or extra requirements to apply.
As you’re finding relevant scholarships and grants, it’s a good idea to color-code or organize each one based on your application status. Then you can keep tabs on how much money you’ve won and how much more you need to cover your costs.
Sort your inbox
It might be best to use a separate email for all of your scholarships and grant registration information. But if you don’t want to sign into a completely separate email, you can set up your current inbox accordingly.
To start, try adding folders based on search engine or type of scholarship. While one folder is nice, it might get too cumbersome as you try to manage emails from many different search engines and for various types of awards. Find out the system that best fits your organizational needs.
Add important dates to your calendar
Add a separate calendar that includes all of your deadlines and then set reminders to apply. Keep your calendar up on your computer so you can strategically map out your free time and apply to scholarships and grants a few at a time. It helps to have important dates marked out so you aren’t applying to a lot at once.
Other ways to pay for graduate school
If you’ve exhausted all of your free money opportunities and still need to cover some funding gaps, there are a few other ways you can pay for grad school:
- Federal student loans. When you complete the FAFSA, you’re also eligible for graduate and professional loans. While you’re not required to take all of the loans available, you can take as much as you need, depending on the type of loan.
- Work-study programs. You might also qualify for work-study programs when you complete your FAFSA. These are part-time jobs that both undergraduate and graduate students in need are eligible for. You’ll earn money as you would with a regular job, and funds go toward your college costs.
- Private student loans. These are loans provided by private lenders, like banks, credit unions and online lenders. You’ll need decent credit or a creditworthy co-signer to qualify. Interest rates are based on your financial health and therefore might be higher than what you’d get with federal student loans, but these loans are available year-round, not just annually when you complete the FAFSA.
- Tuition reimbursement. There are dozens of companies that offer tuition reimbursement up to a certain dollar amount, including AT&T, Chipotle, The Home Depot, Amazon and more. Many have varying eligibility requirements, including the type of degree you’re getting and your major, but you can still ask your employer if you qualify. If your job doesn’t offer this program, consider asking someone in human resources or your supervisor if they’d be willing to work out a similar program for you.
If you want to limit how much money you borrow for school, you can apply for grad school scholarships and grants. Get and stay organized with a spreadsheet to keep track of all of the free money you’ve applied for and received. This lets you follow the money to make sure that you have enough to cover school. And if you don’t, you’ll know exactly how much you need to fill in funding gaps.