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- If you plan to attend graduate school, it’s important to understand the costs up front.
- Grants, scholarships, and fellowships help pay for school without unnecessary loans.
- Other options to pay for school include an assistantship or a part-time job.
You may be considering graduate school to further your education. But the high costs to attend grad school might make you think twice about committing to more classes.
The good news is that grad students have plenty of options to cover those costs. However, the best options are funds you don’t have to repay.
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Let’s take a closer look at grants, scholarships, and fellowships. We’ll explore how these options can impact your long-term financial outlook.
What are grants, scholarships, and fellowships?
In general, students who qualify for state or federal grants will access the funds by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. In contrast, scholarships are often targeted at specific groups, like athletes or women in STEM. Most scholarships require you to submit a unique application to share your qualifications for the award.
Finally, fellowships are typically awarded by schools and other organizations to students on a merit basis. Many fellowships go beyond covering your tuition to provide a stipend for living expenses.
“Utilizing grants, scholarships, and fellowships as financial aid options enables students to substantially minimize or even completely eradicate the necessity for student loans,” says Trinity Owen, NFEC Certified Financial Education Instructor and owner of The Pay at Home Parent.
As a graduate student, relying on grants, scholarships, and fellowships is better than taking out loans to pay for school. When you graduate from your program, repaying your student loans can have a substantial negative impact on your financial situation. Graduating without any debt — or with a smaller debt burden — can lead to a more comfortable life after graduation.
How do you get grants, scholarships, and fellowships?
As you gear up for graduate school, it’s time to find grants, scholarships, and fellowships to cover the cost.
The first step is to fill out the FAFSA. Depending on your financial situation, you may qualify for need-based financial aid. Even if you didn’t qualify for this type of aid as an undergraduate, a change to your dependency status or a lower income could have a big impact on your access to gift aid.
Here are some of the opportunities you might find:
- TEACH grants: If you are planning to pursue a career in teaching, you can tap into up to $4,000 per year in grants. At the end of your education, you must teach in a high-need field as a full-time teacher at a school that serves low-income students for at least four years. If you don’t meet the service obligation, the grant will be converted into a loan.
- Fulbright grants: Fulbright grants allow US citizens to pursue graduate school abroad.
- State-sponsored grants: Many states offer grants to students based on financial need or to those pursuing education in a specific field. Your school’s financial aid office can highlight any state-sponsored grants you may qualify for.
- Organizational grants: Many organizations offer grants to their members. If you or your family is part of an organization, find out if they have grants available for graduate students.
- Fellowships: Fellowships are usually merit-based opportunities to study a particular subject. The length of a fellowship might range from a few months to several years. Typically, you’ll get a stipend for living expenses on top of your tuition costs.
- Private scholarships: You can find scholarships available through countless organizations targeted to specific groups. Consider using a scholarship search engine, like Big Future by College Board, to find opportunities.
Example comparing school costs with and without grant and scholarship aid
Paying for graduate school is often not as simple as finding a single grant to cover the entire cost. Instead, you might piece together smaller grants and scholarships to make your graduate school experience financially feasible.
The reality is that any free money you obtain will have a positive impact on your financial future. Below we will explore how much you stand to save if your entire graduate education costs $50,000:
Alternative ways to pay for grad school
Grants and scholarships aren’t the only way to pay for school. Here are some other options to consider:
- Assistantships: Many graduate programs offer assistantships to their students. In exchange for teaching classes or conducting research, the school may waive your tuition and possibly provide a living stipend. You can find out more about these opportunities directly from the administrator of your program.
- Pick up part-time work: If you can balance a part-time job on top of school, you can use the funds to offset your educational costs.
- Work for an employer who offers tuition assistance: Many large companies offer educational assistance to their employees. While you might have to go to school at a different pace, getting through school debt-free might be worth it.
- Ask your family for money: If you are lucky enough to have family members willing to help with your educational costs, then consider asking them for help.
- Loans: Student loans often offer a pathway to pay for school. But since you must repay the funds, with interest, this should be considered a last resort.