Are you planning on applying to graduate school in the coming years? Before you do, it’s always important to understand the long-term ramifications of a graduate-level degree. This, in part, involves an awareness of how the financial aid process works and what it means for your goals post-graduation. Does your graduate field produce a high ROI? Do you already have debt from your undergraduate degree, and will graduate school compound that debt?
Financial aid at the graduate level typically consists of either funding or loans. A third way to help finance your graduate degree can be through outside scholarships.
• Funding. Many doctoral programs in the United States provide full funding for admitted students. Full funding typically covers tuition plus provides a stipend for monthly living expenses. The stipend for one year can be as high as $30,000, depending on the institutional endowment, allocation of resources to graduate studies, and the location (universities in cities with a high cost of living tend to provide higher stipends).
Why does a university provide funding to its Ph.D. candidates? In a sense, graduate students work for the university – either as a Teaching Assistant or Research Assistant – while pursuing their degree. Most STEM departments fund Ph.D. students through research grants, while humanities and social sciences students more often receive teaching assistantships.
Funding can vary from discipline to discipline, even within the same university! You should contact each department – or review each website – to determine if funding is available. Ask the following questions: Is funding guaranteed for all doctoral students? What about funding for master’s students? What is the duration for funding? What are the teaching and research requirements to receive funding?
If you are applying to master’s degree programs in academic subjects, you might receive funding, but it is best to research each program on your list to determine if funding is available at the MS/MA level. For professional master’s degree programs – like the MBA, M.Arch., MSW, M.Fin., MFA and Ed.M., to name a few – funding is typically not available. Instead, consider taking out loans to finance your graduate education.
• Loans. If you need to apply for loans for graduate school (and you are a U.S. citizen), you can complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in January – around the time you submit your applications.
Note that completing the FAFSA is different for graduate school applicants compared to college applicants. You are considered an independent at age 22; completing the FAFSA is quite simple for independents and you will be eligible to borrow more. In fact, you can typically borrow on the order of $20,000, up to almost $50,000, per year, depending on your field of study.
• Scholarships. Many universities will provide scholarships to stellar applicants. Typically, you cannot apply for university- or department-sponsored scholarships; instead, you will receive the award with your offer of admission.
But why wait to see if you are admitted with a scholarship? Be proactive! You can and should apply for national or state scholarships when you complete your graduate school apps. Check out these sites to find graduate-level scholarships: FastWeb, Peterson’s, Scholarships.com and GoodCall. If you don’t receive a scholarship in your first year of graduate school, try again for the subsequent years.
Want to learn more about graduate school admissions and funding? Schedule your complimentary grad school consultation today.