How To Pay For Graduate School
The financial aid process for graduate school is different from that for undergraduate study. Filling out a standard financial aid application is no longer enough to tap into all the resources available to you. While the FAFSA is still required if you are applying for federal and state loan programs, it is safe to say that no one form will gain you access to the bulk of the money available for graduate study. In fact, for many school-based awards, no application is needed; merit alone determines the recipients.
While most graduate students rely on loans to fund their education, many students are supported by the universities they attend, by federal programs, or by foundations. Since most graduate school money is decentralized, you will have to contact each departmental office, foundation, or association, separately; locate the appropriate contact person; and complete all the paperwork required to procure funding.
Here are some ways to maximize your chances of receiving aid from these various sources:
- The early bird gets the worm, so heed deadlines and apply early. In many instances, when the money runs out, it’s gone.
- Apply to schools with strong programs in your area of interest. These are the schools most likely to receive research grants.
- Write to large corporations. Don’t ask them about scholarships, but learn what schools have received research money from them. Apply to these schools.
- Write to the Grants Management Branch of any private or governmental agency that interests you, e.g., the National Institute of Mental Health. Again, ask for a current list of funded schools and apply to these schools. Be persistent and aggressive in your request. Sometimes program officers don’t understand why you need this information.
- Make friends with faculty members. They are powerful people. Let them know about your interests and your abilities.
- Write to the trade associations that represent your field of interest, for example, the American Bar Association or the National Society of Professional Engineers. Also write to organizations serving your ancestry, your nationality, or your religious affiliation. You’ll find addresses in Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations.
- Write to the graduate school’s departmental office as well as the admission and financial aid offices when you are requesting information. Ask about all university-administered financial aid resources.
The following describes the three major sources of funding for graduate and professional education: federal and state programs; colleges and universities; and private sources, including foundations, corporations, and philanthropic organizations.