By Sarah Wood
While it’s well known that financial aid exists for undergraduates, many students are unaware that scholarships also are available for those seeking a graduate degree.
At San Diego State University, for instance, 29% of total scholarships were awarded to graduate students during the 2022-2023 cycle, says Kari Hooker, director of scholarships in the university’s Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships.
Funding amounts and availability of scholarships for graduate students – who make up about 15% of the higher education student population, according to a 2020 Center for American Progress report on graduate school debt – vary by program. But every dollar counts, experts say.
The application process differs depending on the graduate scholarship, but may require filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, writing an essay and submitting a letter of recommendation.
For prospective professional and graduate students, here are some points to consider when tracking down scholarships to pay for an advanced degree.
The difference between Grants and Scholarships
Grants and scholarships are forms of financial aid that don’t need to be paid back, also known as “gift aid.” Scholarships are usually merit-based – such as for a certain GPA, athletic ability or hobby – or based on a student’s specific area of study or identity.
Northern Arizona University’s Louis H. and Betty J. Quayle Scholarship, for instance, provides up to $4,000 per semester to part- time and full-time graduate students who are members of a federally recognized Native American tribe or nation.
Scholarships can come in all kinds of amounts and students can apply for several at a time to help cover the cost of tuition. Grants, however, are typically awarded at the college, state or federal level based on financial need, like the federal Pell Grant for low-income students. Pell Grants are generally for undergraduate students, but graduate students may be eligible for other federal grants.
Where to look for graduate school scholarships
Different types of national graduate school scholarships are listed on database search websites, like Fastweb, Cappex and Unigo. GoGrad is another online resource that lists niche scholarships for prospective and current grad students.
“Often, what is called a scholarship in the undergraduate sphere is frequently called a fellowship in the graduate sphere,” Ortega says. “So be sure to look for fellowships as well.”
Students can reach out to the school’s financial aid office or talk with a program department head or adviser to learn about degree- or research-specific scholarships, like teaching. As part of the Urban Teaching Apprenticeship Program’s Humanities Teaching Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, for example, fellows are awarded a $32,000 scholarship.
Graduate students should not look past applying to local scholarships, which are usually less competitive than national scholarships, experts say. A student’s employer, parent’s employer or even a place of worship, like a church or synagogue, may offer scholarships.
Another option is to find and join professional associations in a field of interest. For instance, undergraduate and graduate members of the National Black MBA Association, Inc., can apply for an award of up to $5,000.
The American Bar Association also awards $15,000 of financial aid over three years to underrepresented first-year law school students. About 10 to 20 incoming students receive the Legal Opportunity Scholarship each year.
When to apply for scholarships for Grad School
Deadlines for scholarships vary, but Ortega advises students to start their search as soon as they’re accepted into a graduate program – if not before.
“You can apply to scholarships year-round, so always be on the lookout for new ones that pop up,” she says. “Even if you planned to take out a student loan, you can still apply for scholarships to help reduce the amount of loan you need.”
What’s the best strategy to win a scholarship?
If there are short answers or essay questions in the application, experts advise students to write about what makes them unique.
Before submitting a scholarship application, have a peer or undergraduate adviser review the application for grammar mistakes and other errors, experts say.
“An advantage of applying for scholarships as a graduate student versus an undergraduate is that you have more life and educational experience to draw from when writing a scholarship essay,” says expert, “Since graduate school programs are more focused on a specific area, it’s easier to speak to why you are pursuing this degree or area of research, which may be a compelling story for the scholarship application.”
(Text Courtesy: US News)