How to Find the Right Scholarship Opportunity

For a variety of reasons scholarships for graduate students are not as common and freely available as those for undergraduates. Graduate students rely mostly on fellowships or assistantships – especially in areas like nursing or teaching – but these aren’t available to everyone and don’t always cover living expenses. Thankfully, a number of government and non-government bodies are willing to provide a bit of extra funding. Consider all options you already would when you were trying to fund your undergraduate education (essay scholarships, merit-based awards, student and career-specific scholarships) but further expand your search to organizations and sponsorship opportunities. If you’re already employed find out what incentives your employer offers for pursuing an advanced degree: Many employers offer tuition reimbursement and while you’ll probably need to remain at that company for some time once you’ve complete your graduate degree, it would be a good deal as it provides job stability.

In finding scholarships available to students in your specialty try following these steps:

Consult with your department head or university financial aid office on how to find aid.

Research professional and trade associations in your field. They often keep lists of scholarships and fellowships.

Sift through general scholarship search lists.

Finally, while the reality is that scholarships for grad school aren’t overly common, there are several opportunities for which you may qualify:

Scholarships from your alma mater

Most colleges across the country offer tuition reimbursement for their alumni who want to pursue a degree from graduate school. Often, but not always, this means you have to attend grad school at the same university from which you graduated. Check what your undergrad school offers in terms of scholarships for advanced education; you may be pleasantly surprised by the options.

Government bodies

The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science established a Graduate Fellowship Program to support graduate training in research areas of physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, engineering, computational sciences, and environmental sciences. Students with outstanding academic background and performance are encouraged to apply.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Jacob K. Javits Fellowships Program provides fellowships to students on the basis of achievement, financial need, and exceptional promise. The fellows must undertake study at the doctoral or Master of Fine Arts level in selected fields of arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Unlike undergraduates, who can qualify for Pell Grants and other subsidies, graduate students resort to taking student loans much more frequently. Fortunately, grad students have a few funding options to choose from.

Private loans

In some cases, students can borrow loans with interest rates starting at 2.25 percent. But it’s a good idea to research if the rate is variable as that may lead to a dramatic change over the course of the loan, and you could wind up paying a lot more than you initially planned.

Several private lenders, such as Wells Fargo and Sallie Mae, offer loans with fixed interest rates, which are lower than the rates available via federal PLUS loans. While these loans may seem enticing, you should fully understand the terms of the loan before signing on the dotted line as you must be sure you will be able to pay it back quickly and in full.

It’s recommended to discuss all of these options with your target college. Talk to the financial aid folks at your chosen university. The primary source of information about student aid opportunities and resources remains the college/university where the student is applying. Most of the student aid resources are going to be made available through those financial aid offices. After that, the next best source is your school guidance officer.