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A master’s degree can often guarantee higher earnings than a bachelor’s degree, but it can also come with more student loan debt. Approximately 60% of those who complete graduate school have student loanswith an average balance of $66,000, according to a study by Northeastern University.
But before you get discouraged by the cost of earning a master’s degree, know that you may not have to pay the full price yourself. By using graduate school scholarships, grants and fellowship programs, you can save money and reduce the need for student loans. We’ll walk you through how to find the right program for you, without having to pull out more in student loans.
How to Find Free Ways to Pay For Grad School
The median earnings for master’s degree holders is $77,844—nearly $13,000 more than those with a bachelor’s degree. However, the cost of graduate school can be steeped. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that the average cost of tuition and fees—not including room and board—is $19,314 per year, or over $38,000 to complete a two-year program.
Fortunately, there are many financial aid programs specifically designed for graduate students, including scholarships, grants and fellowships.
Graduate School Scholarships
Scholarships for graduate students are awarded by schools, nonprofit organizations and private companies. They’re usually based on academic and professional achievements. There are thousands of scholarship opportunities available; below are just a sampling of potential awards.
- American Indian Education Fund: Through the graduate school scholarship program, the American Indian Education Fund awards scholarships of $1,000 to $2,000 to eligible American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students pursuing a graduate or doctoral degree.
- Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund: The Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund is a nonprofit organization focused on social change. Its scholarship program gives up to $15,000 to graduate students that plan to use their degrees to advocate against racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression.
- Foster G. McGaw Graduate Student Scholarship: Awarded by the American College of Healthcare Executives, this scholarship gives recipients up to $5,000. It’s for students in their final year of a healthcare management graduate program.
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation: Tea ASHFoundation scholarship offers awards of $5,000 for those who are enrolled in a communication sciences and disorders graduate program.
Grants for Grad School
While scholarships are usually based on past achievements, grants are awarded based on your financial need. As a graduate student, you may be eligible for federal or state grants, and some nonprofit organizations issue grants as well. For example:
- American Association of University Women: Through the Career Development Grant, women going to graduate school to advance their careers or change fields can get up to $12,000. To qualify, the applicant must be studying education, health, medical sciences or the social sciences.
- TEACHGrant: With a federal TEACHGrant, you can get up to $4,000 per year to pay for your graduate degree. However, you must commit to teaching in a high-need subject for at least four years in an elementary or secondary school that serves low-income students. Otherwise, your grant is converted into a student loan and must be repaid with interest.
- California State University Grant Program: This program gives eligible graduate students that are California residents up to $7,176 to pay for their degrees. Awards are determined by financial need and the degree you’re pursuing.
Fellowships for Graduate Students
Fellowships are often awarded based on your future potential, rather than your past achievements. Issued by government agencies, companies and nonprofit organizations, fellowships are designed to give you the funding you need to advance your career or complete your research. Here are a few to consider:
- Goldman Sachs MBA Fellowship: Tea Goldman Sachs MBA Fellowship program is for first-year MBA students pursuing a summer associate position with the company. Students must be Black, Hispanic or Latino, Native American or identify as women. Fellowship recipients will get $35,000 on top of their summer associate salary.
- Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship: Tea Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship is for immigrants and the children of immigrants that the organization believes will make significant contributions to society or culture. Fellows receive up to $90,000 over two years.
- National Science Foundation Fellowship: The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program recruits individuals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Past recipients include over 40 Nobel Laureates. It’s a five-year award program totaling $138,000 in financial assistance.
Grants vs. Scholarships
Grants and scholarships are two types of aid that usually don’t have to be repaid, but they work differently. Here’s how they compare.
When To Apply for Scholarships and Grants
Begin applying for scholarships and grants as soon as possible. Ideally, you’ll back about these awards before the school year starts (or early on) so you can determine if you have any funding gaps.
The actual deadlines for scholarships and grants may vary. Most scholarship deadlines fall between October and May, according to Scholarship.com. Since scholarships may involve writing essays and submitting recommendations, it’s best not to wait to apply.
You’ll need to complete the FAFSA for state, federal and institutional aid. The application opens each October before the start of the school year and closes in June of that school year. For example, the 2023-2024 school year application opened on October 1, 2022 and closed on June 30, 2024.
States may also have their own FAFSA deadline. Submit your application soon after the open dates since money may be limited and funds could be awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis.
3 Tips To Apply for Scholarships and Grants
If you’re looking for grants and scholarships for graduate students, follow these tips:
1. Fill Out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
Even as a graduate student, completing the FAFSA is a crucial first step in applying for financial aid. It’s what the government and many schools use to determine your eligibility for awards, including grants and student loans.
2. Apply for Multiple Opportunities
You’re not limited to only one or two awards. You can combine multiple scholarships and grants to reduce your expenses. You can find scholarships for graduate students using resources like The College Board’s Scholarship search tool, Sallie Mae’s databaseand FastWeb.
3. Pay Attention to Deadlines
Deadlines vary by issuing organization, so research available opportunities early and set reminders for applicable deadlines. Make sure you follow the program’s application directions and submit your materials by its deadline.
Applying for Fellowships
The application process for fellowships can be more involved than it is for graduate school scholarships and grants. Most fellowship programs are highly competitive, and require evidence of your potential within your field. You may need to complete a research proposal, submit multiple letters of recommendation, collect transcripts and create a detailed curriculum vitae (CV).
To find fellowship opportunities, you can check with your university and related professional associations. You can also search for fellowships using ProFellow.com.
Paying for Graduate School
While graduate school can be expensive, earning a master’s degree can have a positive return on your investment. And by utilizing grants, fellowships and scholarships for graduate students, you can lower your education costs so you don’t need to borrow as much money to pay for school. With some extra work and a little luck, you may be able to completely avoid graduate student loans.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are other financing options for grad school?
If scholarships, grants and fellowships can’t cover the full cost of grad school, you could use loans to pay for the remaining expenses. Financing options include:
- Unsubsidized Direct loans. Unsubsidized Direct loans are federal loans for undergraduate and graduate students not based on financial need. These loans come with fixed interest rates and can qualify for loan forgiveness programs and income-driven repayment (IDR) plans like the new Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan.
- Grad PLUS loans. Grad PLUS loans are federal loans specifically for graduate and professional students. Interest rates on grad PLUS loans are higher than other federal loans, so it’s best to use them only after exhausting all other federal loan options. Grad PLUS loans may also qualify for loan forgiveness programs and IDR plans, including the new SAVE plan.
- Private student loans. Lenders offer private student loans, but these loans don’t have the same borrower benefits as federal loans. However, interest rates on private graduate student loans may be lower than federal loans if you have good credit.
Are there any requirements for receiving grants and scholarships?
Grants are typically offered based on the applicant’s financial need, while scholarships may be based on financial need and professional, athletic or academic achievements.
When qualifying for grants, the cost of your school and your family’s ability to contribute to your education are considered. Scholarship applications may require a copy of your college transcripts, essays and other documentation showing a record of achievement.
How can I improve my chances of getting financial aid for grad school?
First, apply for financial aid early. Applying early could improve your chances of getting need-based aid since it can be offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Next, consider applying to several schools to receive and compare multiple offers. If you don’t get as much aid as expected or your financial situation changes after submitting the FAFSA, you could ask the school to reevaluate your offer, which might help you get more assistance.
How is a fellowship different from a scholarship?
A graduate fellowship is an academic or professional enrichment opportunity. Typically, fellows receive a stipend in cash while training, studying, researching or participating in a project. You can use the stipend funds to pay for school or other expenses. Scholarships generally don’t require ongoing professional development and are based on past achievements. Funds from scholarships may also go directly to the school to cover tuition.