Scholarships for Graduate Students: How to Find Free Money for Grad School

Going to graduate school can help you advance your career and boost your paycheck, build stronger and more specialized skills, and open new opportunities for the future. But if you’re ready to pursue a graduate degree, you know there are huge costs coming your way. So, as you explore different financing options, make sure you research all of the scholarships that are available to graduate students.

Also Check Out “Is Grad School Worth the Investment?

Many popular scholarship search engines have filters for grad students, so take advantage of that option when sorting through them. You’ll find there are many categories for scholarships that may qualify you for funding: from veteran status to religious affiliation, being a teacher, or even a love of copy editing. The most important thing to know is that there are thousands of graduate school scholarships available, and it’s up to you to do your homework.

How to Research Scholarships for Graduate Students

In a 2018 report, Peterson’s found that the average annual cost of graduate school ranges from $30,000 to $40,000. That means most prospective grad students are actively researching how to financially prepare for graduate school. As with most financial aid, the best way to get started is to talk to the schools you’re interested in and discuss the options with your current academic advisor. Particularly for graduate programs, the schools and specific departments may offer some sort of assistance to incoming students. The key is to apply as early as possible to have the best chance of receiving aid. These programs often have very limited budgets, so get your foot in the door as soon as possible.

The next best way to research grad scholarships is to use scholarship-specific search engines. There are many resources you can use for your search (see the list below). When clicking around search tools, take note of the filters they offer. Depending on your background, parents’ occupation, or even memberships with certain societies, you may be the perfect fit for specific scholarships. These websites make that search easy, so don’t wait to start looking for the right fit for you. Here are some websites to help get you started:

Scholarship Search Resources

Grad School Fellowships

Most scholarships are merit- or need-based, which means you’ll need to demonstrate your qualifications when you apply. On the other hand, fellowships are typically linked to a research project or academic program. Like scholarships, they do not need to be repaid, but often require assistant teaching or an internship. It is important to know the distinction between graduate scholarships and fellowships. During your research phase, make sure you are sorting between the correct types along the way (and know what you’re signing up for).

Types of Grad School Scholarships

Looking for scholarships for graduate students is about more than just filters, though. Many grad school scholarships take your career path and education background into account, too. Since grad students have typically spent more time in the workforce than an undergraduate, there are scholarships that award your extra experience. In the same vein, graduate programs are specific in their alignment with certain careers, and students can apply for scholarships that do the same.

Here are a few of the categories that are often covered:

College Programs for example, Penn State offers a PSGC Graduate Research Fellowship, whose goal is to “expand opportunities for Pennsylvanians to learn about and participate in NASA’s aeronautics and space programs.” Applicants must be U.S. citizens and enrolled in Penn State’s Graduate School full-time. As noted above, check directly with your school for direct funding opportunities.

Student-Specific scholarships award applicants who meet specific criteria. This can include those who come from non-traditional backgrounds, are part of minorities are veterans, are part of the LBGTQ+ community, and more. For example, The American Indian College Fund’s Full Circle Scholarship supports students pursuing degrees at tribal colleges and universities, as well as all non-profit and accredited schools. The GRCF Miller Johnson West Michigan Diversity Law School Scholarship gives $5,000 to students of color residing in West Michigan.

Career-Based scholarships support students pursuing particular professions. The most popular funding goes to fields that are in high-demand like teaching and nursing but can be as specific as copyediting or cosmetology. For example, the World Trade Club of San Francisco offers $5,000 to MBA students through its Careers in International Business Scholarship. The Hispanic Dental Association Foundation Scholarship provides $1,000 and is open to Hispanic dental students in Texas. Find more examples by searching “[profession] grad school scholarships”.

Professional Organizations typically provide support to members who support their general cause. There are thousands of organizations who offer funding, from fraternal groups to medical associations. Like other scholarships and fellowships, they come in various amounts and require their own qualifications. One popular example is from The American Bar Association’s Legal Opportunity Scholarship, which celebrates diversity by awarding 20 first-year law students $15,000 each. The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) Scholarship Program awards $10,000 to women in California who are returning to school for engineering.

Think about what special qualifications you have. It may be worth joining a new professional organization so you can build your network and have access to their many resources. The more specific your professional goals, the better chance you’ll have of earning a scholarship that supports them. Once you find the right scholarships for you, it’s time to apply.

How to Apply

Federal and private scholarships have their own criteria, so their application processes will vary. For instance, some scholarships may require an essay along with an application. It’s important to keep track of all the deadlines for relevant scholarship applications and give yourself plenty of time to complete the ones you choose to prioritize.

Government Scholarships (Grants)

The easiest way to qualify for federal scholarships and grants is to apply using the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The free form determines your eligibility for federal and state grants and scholarships, as well as federal student loans.

Private Scholarships

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to applying to private scholarships. Once you find the right ones, it’s a matter of time management and budgeting It’s best to start a spreadsheet early that tracks your progress on different applications.

Many scholarships have a specific set of requirements when applying, such as:

  • Online application
  • Current resume or Curriculum Vitae
  • Official undergraduate or graduate transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Application essay, usually explaining your interest in the field, financial need, civic engagement, and/or plans for the future

All you need to do is follow the directions of each application and keep track of your progress. Take the time to write and edit well thought-out essays and manage your time wisely.

In Short

Scholarships are absolutely worth the time and effort they take to apply, so don’t let the massive amount of options overwhelm you. The more options you have, the less competition there will be for each one. Set yourself apart from other students by being the most organized, well-researched scholarship applicant, and show donors why it makes sense to help you pursue your goals.

To learn more about grad school, check out a few of our other articles.

Grad School Loan Calculator Is Grad School Worth the Investment? From Undergrad to Graduate School – Setting Yourself Up for Success


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