How to Find Money for Grad School

Oct 15, 2021
Teaser Image - Graduate Student Blog

When applying to graduate programs, many students initially overlook the importance of investigating various options that can defray the cost of living expenses and lessen the financial burden of student loans. But while funds awarded to those seeking a post-graduate education tend to be less robust than the typical package available to undergraduates, successfully navigating the landscape of financial aid can be well worthwhile for graduate students, given that the average tuition for a two-year graduate degree at a public university is roughly $30,000, and more for a degree in law or medicine. For an astute approach to net you the most money possible through grants, scholarships, tuition waivers and more, these tips can be a useful place to start:

Find out what the school or program you’re applying to can offer

Many universities offer need-based grants and merit-based scholarships to graduate students, so be sure to check with your program to find out what’s available. it’s generally advisable to apply early since some financial aid is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Also keep in mind that you may be able to work for the department in an assistantship, and although they are often highly competitive, fellowship opportunities can help subsidize costs such as tuition, and may include a cost-of-living stipend, health insurance and more.

Let the school know about your financial needs or constraints

If you find that your financial aid package falls short, New York City-based career platform The Muse recommends talking to both your financial aid office and your department to see if you can reach a more workable solution, and even negotiating with a better offer from a second-choice school (if you have one). As cited by U.S. News & World Report, Sallie Mae spokesman Rick Castellano advises that students make an effort to set up a call with someone who is directly involved in the recruitment process to discuss what might be possible. Castellano also encourages those who’ve faced financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to include mention of this when making their case. As he explains, students often don’t realize the extent to which schools may be willing to work with them in terms of financial aid.

Don’t skip the FAFSA

If you applied for college funds as an undergraduate, you may recall that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid was a critical first step that allowed you to be considered for the highest amount of needs-based assistance for grants, scholarships, work-study programs and government loans. But the FAFSA is also applicable to graduate students, since many universities use it to determine your eligibility for federal, state and school-sponsored financial aid. However, the financial aid you may be eligible to receive as a result of completing the FAFSA as a graduate student differs quite a bit from what is available to undergraduates.

Most graduate students are not eligible for Pell Grants, nor do they have access to subsidized loans (those that delay accumulating interest charges until you’re no longer a full-time student). On the other hand, graduate students can often take out more money in federal loans than undergraduates, although the interest rate tends to be higher on these loans. Moreover, as PrepScholar explains, the fact that you’ll be accumulating interest charges immediately while attending graduate school can add up to several thousands of dollars on the balance of your student loans. You can find an excellent guide to the FAFSA for graduate school from Christine Sarikas at “FAFSA for Graduate School: 5 Steps to Maximize Your Financial Aid.”

Check with your employer

Another great way to reduce the costs of your post-graduate education is to take advantage of any tuition reimbursement programs offered by your workplace. Of course, as The Muse reminds us, your eligibility for this benefit will likely hinge on how relevant the degree is to your current job or career path, and how long you remain with your current employer.

Take advantage of the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC)

Keep in mind that the federal government offers a tax credit that can be used to offset the cost of tuition and related expenses for eligible undergraduate, graduate and professional degree courses. What’s more, there is no limit on the number of years you can claim this credit, which is worth up to $2,000 per tax return. But be aware that the LLC can only reduce a person’s tax liability to zero, and no part of the credit can be issued as a refund. For details, visit the IRS website here.

Look into tuition-free programs

A limited number of graduate programs in the U.S. now offer full-tuition scholarships. A few of these include NYU Grossman School of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine and Washington University School of Medicine (in St. Louis). Find “14 universities and grad schools in the US with zero tuition” at Insider Inc.

Research outside funding with online search tools

In addition to scoping out what’s offered by your school or program, it’s a good idea to explore scholarships and grants awarded to graduate students by private individuals and groups including professional associations, foundations, corporations, nonprofits, culturally-affiliated organizations and more. Plenty of scholarship search engines have databases dedicated to opportunities for graduate students. For example, Sallie Mae’s Graduate School Scholarship Search provides free access to 950,000 scholarships valued at up to $1 billion, and enables you to create a profile based on your field of study, skills and interests. U.S. News and World Report also suggests GoGrad, Unigo, Fastweb and U.S. News Scholarship Finder.

Consider joining professional associations in your field

Another effective way to expand your scholarship search is to seek out professional groups in your field, many of which award funds to graduate students. According to Scholarships.com, membership fees for professional associations are usually low, if not free, and organizations sometimes offer scholarships exclusively to their members. For ideas or inspiration, check out a sampling of these opportunities at Scholarships.com, or start by visiting JobStars for a list of professional associations or organizations by industry.

Don’t limit yourself

In addition to your area of study, you can enhance the field of scholarships and grant opportunities available to you by thinking in terms of the various aspects of your identity. Sallie Mae suggests searching based on criteria such as your region, interests, religious affiliation, hobbies or cultural affiliations. They also point out that graduate scholarships are not only available for specific populations such as women and many different types of ethnic groups, but also for candidates who are foster children, first-generation college students, students who are disabled, etc. In addition, the student loan provider recommends searching by region or state since fewer candidates may compete for these opportunities, versus those vying for a national scholarship. To learn more about regional opportunities, they recommend contacting your state’s Department of Education.

Ready to start exploring private scholarship opportunities right in your area? Your timing is excellent, because for the first time this year, The Police Credit Union will be accepting applications from both graduate and undergraduate students for the chance to receive a one-time $2,500 scholarship award! Applications will be accepted from October 4, 2021 through December 31, 2021. To qualify for consideration, candidates must meet the following requirements:

  • Minimum of a 3.0 cumulative G.P.A.
  • Must be a member of The Police Credit Union for at least six months prior to the time of application.
  • Must be accepted to or already attending an undergraduate or graduate program of study at a college or university (if application for admission is pending when this scholarship application is submitted, scholarship will be awarded contingent upon acceptance to an undergraduate or graduate program of study at a college or university).
  • The Board of Directors, The Police Credit Union employees, Volunteer Committee members (and their families), and previous winners are not eligible to apply.

For more details and to apply, click here. Good luck!

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