Financial Aid

Financial aid is available for graduate school, although competition for the various forms of aid is often greater than you may have experienced as an undergraduate.  The most common forms of aid are fellowships, assistantships, grants and loans.  There are also a limited number of academic scholarships available for graduate students.

Traditional Sources of Funding:

Fellowships: Fellowships cover living expenses and often tuition in return for research or work on a project.  Fellowships may be single-or multi-year awards and are usually based on an individual’s merit as measures by grades, GRE scores, publications and letters of recommendation.  They are often offered through the government or private companies and organizations.

Assistantships: Assistantships are campus-affiliated work assignments (for example, graduate teaching instructor, research associate, or graduate assistant) that provide a stipend and often waive tuition and/or other fees for a designated number of work hours.  Talk with administrators of your individual program about availability of assistantships in your department.  Other general assistantships may be available elsewhere on campus, often within student service units.  These may or may not relate to your field of study.  In research-driven fields, it is more likely for students to be supported by program funds, but in some areas, like law and medicine, students are much less likely to receive assistantships.

Grants: Grants are awarded to cover expenses associated with carrying out research or other specific projects, such as expenses for travel, materials or computers.  Here are some tools to help with your search:

  • FastWeb: Free Scholarship and College Searches, & Financial Aid Tools—Free scholarships search site that has 500,000 scholarships worth more than $1billion.  Registration required. 
  • FinAid: The Smart Student Guide to Financial Aid—This award-winning site is a comprehensive annotated collection of information about student financial aid on the web.
  •—Articles and resources for fellowships.
  • U.S. Department of Education: Find and Pay for College.
  • The American Association of University Women (AAUW)—Offers grants and fellowships for women obtaining graduate degrees or making a difference in their communities. 
  • Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO)—Offers grants and scholarships to women pursuing higher education degrees.  Includes opportunities for both US citizens and international students.

Loans: Loans are available from the government and from private sources.  These are very similar to those you may have applied for during your undergraduate program.  Contact your school’s financial aid office for more information.

Academic Scholarships:  In general, institutional aid is primarily given to undergraduate students; however, some institutions have a limited amount of money to devote to graduate students.  This money could come from the general graduate school or from your specific program.  Start looking early!  While some schools will automatically issue merit scholarships, others require a complex application process.  Speak with your schools’ admissions counselor and/or a faculty representative for more information.

Special opportunities for underrepresented and disadvantaged students: Some institutions offer application-fee waivers and other forms of funding in order to help diversify their student body.  Outside scholarships and specialized funding may also be available.

Other Sources of Funding:

Your Employer: Certain employers will pay for their employees to advance their education.  This is a great question to ask when interviewing for a job!

Professional Organizations: Professional organizations often offer grants and fellowships for students pursuing a degree in their particular discipline.  For more information, go directly the organization’s website.  Note: scholarships are most likely to be available through national organizations as opposed to local or regional ones.

Fraternities and Sororities: Check with your national branch to see if your fraternity or sorority offers any grants or fellowships for alumni pursuing graduate school.

Churches/Religious Organizations: Some churches offer scholarships and grants for their members.  Others offer them at the national level.  Contact your church to see if they have any options.

NOTE: If you plan on funding your education through any one of these options, you should have located the source(s) (grants, fellowships, assistantships, etc) you wish to apply for by the December before you plan on entering graduate school

Portions of this website were adapted with permission from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville’s Admission Guide for Graduate School.