While most students are aware that there are tens of billions of dollars in financial aid available for undergraduate study, many would be surprised to find out just how much graduate school financial aid is available for those who want to pursue advanced degrees. There’s lots of financial aid available these days, so any student hoping to continue their education past the bachelor’s level should be able to do so without having to pay for everything up front.
The biggest difference between aid available for college, and graduate school financial aid, is that financial need is usually no longer a factor, except in the case of some federal loans. So Pell grants are not available for grad students, for instance. Aid usually takes the form of outside scholarships, loans, tuition reductions, and/or some sort of work study programs, such as employment as a teaching or research assistant.
One of the best and most popular ways to pay for grad school is to secure a position as a teaching assistant at the university where you’ll be studying. There are tens of thousands of these positions available every year. Teaching assistants are just what the name implies-they do a lot of the basic work for professors, such as teaching some classes, grading papers, etc. In fact, if you’ve already been to college, you’re no doubt aware of just how much TA’s do. In many entry level courses, TA’s do the bulk of the teaching, freeing up professors to devote themselves to the more advanced classes. The position is paid, and usually comes with reduced, and sometimes free, tuition. Research assistant positions are similar to TA’s, but, as the name implies, instead of assisting in the classroom RA’s do their work in laboratories and libraries on research and experimentation projects. You’ll want to contact the university you hope to do your graduate work at as early as possible to find out what TA and RA positions they offer, and how to apply for them.
Many grad schools offer tuition reductions for students with excellent undergraduate academic achievements. These vary greatly in both availability dollar amount from school to school, so you’ll want to make your inquiries early in your grad school selection process if this is a factor in your decision.
Graduate scholarships, often called fellowships, usually come from the government or public interest groups, such as foundations. These forms of graduate school financial aid are highly selective, but very generous, often covering all the costs of earning your postgraduate degree, including tuition and living expenses. There are hundreds and hundreds of these fellowships available. Some of them are very well known, such as the Rhodes and Fulbright programs, but there are many that aren’t, which means there isn’t nearly as much competition when applying for one of these, as opposed to the world renowned Rhodes and Fulbright programs. Fellowships are usually awarded for studies in a particular discipline, or a range of disciplines, such as public policy, law, architecture, etc. So if you’ve got a record of accomplishment in your field of study, and a record of leadership and community service, you should consider applying for a fellowship.
As presented earlier, Federal loans are also available for graduate school. Loans can be made to graduate students under the Stafford, Perkins and Grad PLUS programs. Stafford and Perkins loans have already been discussed. Grad PLUS loans have the same terms as parent PLUS loan except the graduate student, him/herself, is the borrower.