When most people are considering how to finance their advanced degree, they overlook graduate school scholarships. Many think of scholarships as something you get as an undergraduate student and assume there are few if any scholarships for graduate school.
In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for students to get free money to pay for graduate school from a variety of scholarship providers. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best places for grad students to find and apply for scholarships.
Why Pursue Graduate School Scholarships?
Two words: free money. Unlike other forms of financial aid like student loans, scholarships provide funding that you don’t have to repay after earning your graduate degree.
While most full-time doctoral students are eligible for teaching or research fellowships, these programs often aren’t offered to students pursuing master’s degrees. While the cost of a master’s degree varies considerably, it’s safe to say it’s rarely “cheap.”
Along with private and federal grants, graduate level scholarships help you pay for your graduate program without burdening you with student debt. In short, the better question might be: why not pursue graduate scholarships?
Types of Scholarships for Graduate Students
As with those for undergraduates, scholarships for grad students come in a few varieties. Here are the most common scholarship types you might encounter from different providers.
As the name implies, merit-based scholarships are those awarded according to academic and personal achievement. These are often the most competitive awards and require a strong GPA and a history of rigorous coursework. The level of academic excellence varies widely among awards, but a good GPA is a minimum.
Merit-based awards tend have a preference for students with a demonstrated history of leadership, strong social skills, and clear career plans.
While they don’t completely ignore merit, need-based awards are more concerned with helping students with financial hardships pay for tuition. What constitutes “financial hardship,” of course, varies depending on the association. But, in this country, the minimum requirement is often determined as some percentage of the national poverty level.
There are countless awards available to people associated with demographic groups and cultures. Just a few of the demographic groups who may be eligible for particular awards include:
- people with disabilities
- people of color
- LGBTQ people
There are also a number of awards that are based on where you live. If you are a citizen of a certain country, state, or city, you might be eligible for different regional awards.
Grad School Scholarship Award Examples
Here is a short list of prominent graduate school scholarship providers to give you a sense of what’s out there.
To be clear, many of the scholarships listed here are prestigious and very competitive. Most students will have better luck applying for scholarships based in their region, field, or university. Still, these scholarships provide insight into the requirements and application process for many graduate scholarship awards.
The Beinecke Scholarship
The Beinecke Scholarship is awarded to no more than 20 students each year. Students must be nominated by their institution for displaying “superior standards of intellectual ability, scholastic achievement, and personal promise” as an undergraduate. Students receive $4,000 just before entering graduate school and $30,000 more while attending.
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program
The Fullbright U.S. Student Program offers a grant to recent college graduates and current Master’s and doctoral candidates. This grant is for graduate students pursuing individually designed research project or those in English Teaching Assistant programs. The provider offers the grant for one academic year in a participating non-U.S. country.
Harry S. Truman Scholarship
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation offers a $30,000 graduate scholarship to current baccalaureate students with an interest in becoming “change agents.” Requirements for the scholarship are rigorous and include the following:
- Desire to work in government, education, the nonprofit sector, or public interest and advocacy.
- Commitment to work in public service for three of the first seven years upon completion of a graduate degree.
- Extensive participation in community service, student government, political activities and campaigns, and/or government internships.
- Strong GPA and academic record.
We won’t get into the actual “qualities” the Rhode’s Scholarship committee looks for in an applicant, as they’re somewhat ambiguous. But one thing is clearly required: academic excellence. As one of the most prestigious educational awards in history, it’s fair to say that it’s likely the most competitive. Since 1902, Rhodes Scholars receive a full ride scholarship with a stipend for graduate education at the University of Oxford.
Where Can You Find Scholarships for Graduate School?
Here are the best places to start your scholarship search.
It’s important to check out your own educational institution to see what kinds of awards and endowed fellowships might be available to you. It’s true that much graduate program funding goes toward teaching and research fellowships. That said, most universities offer a number of scholarships to students pursuing graduate degrees.
Often, the best source for graduate scholarships is a professional association or organization in your career field. These groups tend to offer scholarships geared specifically toward their associated profession. Further, there are often local chapters of such associations which can increase your chances of receiving awards even more.
Indeed, there are professional organizations for nearly every industry, whether you’re pursuing a career in healthcare, science, technology, management, or anything else.
Companies in Your Field
You might also look toward prominent companies large and small in the industry you’re planning to start a career. For instance, if you’re planning a career in the healthcare industry, see if any private healthcare facility offer awards.
While there are many websites for researching scholarship opportunities, there are a few databases that provide the best information for grad school scholarships.
FastWeb is easily the most popular scholarship resource on the web-and for good reason. With its comprehensive user profile setup, you’ll add all of your relevant information to ensure you’re matched with the best opportunities for you. The site is exceedingly easy to use, and their scholarship database is filled to the brim with nearly every provider out there.
While Sallie Mae is most known as a student loan provider, they also provide some of the best information about scholarships and grants available. All you have to do is sign up for a free account, and you’ll be granted access to their searchable scholarship database. Just type in some basic information like intended graduate year, college type, GPA, and test scores. You can scroll through hundreds of scholarships, fellowships, and grants.
While Scholarship America doesn’t have as extensive of a catalog of awards as FastWeb, it’s worth checking out. Unfortunately, they don’t offer the opportunity to filter the listings, but you can find some gems if you’re willing to search a bit. Plus, you don’t have to create an account to search their listings. So, you won’t have to worry about receiving loads of emails or college brochures in the mail.
Unigo is a lesser-known scholarship database, but they have a lot to offer. Just like with FastWeb, you create a detailed student profile that will help match you to the most relevant scholarship providers and opportunities.
Other Scholarship Sites
There are a number of other websites devoted to college and graduate scholarships. The quality and usefulness of these sites varies considerably, but you might find them useful depending on your needs and preferences. Here are a few:
Graduate School Scholarship Applications
Once you’ve found several private scholarships you’d like to pursue, it’s time to start the application process. The level of difficulty of scholarship applications varies widely depending on the scholarship provider and competitiveness of the award. But there are a few elements common to most of them.
Transcripts and GPA
Almost every scholarship application will require you to submit your college transcripts, complete with GPA and full course history. Your academic performance will weigh the most heavily for merit-based scholarships.
Many scholarship providers will ask you to submit a resume or curriculum vitae outlining your academic and/or employment history. This is a good opportunity to display your experience, achievements, and qualifications.
While not required for all graduate scholarships, you may have to submit your financial history or tax documents, especially for need-based awards.
Aside from your academic history, your personal statement is perhaps the most important part of any scholarship application. The requirement for the personal statement varies widely from award to award. But this your best shot to make your case for why you deserve assistance with covering the costs of graduate tuition.
Whether you pursue prestigious endowed memorial fellowships or awards based on need, it’s important to plan for the financial aspects of grad school.