Paying for graduate school may seem like an impossible task; however, do not write off going to graduate school because it is too expensive. Conduct your research and apply to as many sources as possible. Just as each graduate school's application procedures differ, so will the systems for awarding financial aid. You will need to communicate with each school and in some cases directly with the academic department concerning teaching/research assistantships.
Basically, there are three ways to finance graduate education - grants, loans, and work. There are several sources of graduate support including federal and state government, educational institutions, foundations, corporations and other private organizations. The Career Center library has two books that, combined, list over 4000 scholarships and grants: The Graduate Student's Complete Scholarship Book and The Financial Aid Book. Two other popular sources, which we do not have in the Career Center library, are Peterson's Grants for Graduate and Post-Doctoral Study and Peterson's Scholarships, Grants, and Prizes 2001. There are also many online resources for searching for financial support.
No matter what your financial situation, you should spend adequate time preparing a financial plan for graduate school. The authors of the Peterson's Guide to Graduate and Professional Programs: An Overview 2000 have come up with three guiding principles in formulating your financial plan (see pp. 7-8 of the above publication for more detailed information about these guiding principles):
This step consists of setting realistic goals as to whether you will attend graduate school part-time or full-time, and whether or not you will work during your time in school; taking inventory of your assets and liabilities; calculating your need for the duration of your graduate program; creating an action plan for how you will meet your financial needs; and, finally, reviewing your plan regularly.
Live Within Your Means
Know how much money you are able to live on and be prepared for the strong possibility of having to live on less during your years of graduate study.
Keep Your Head Above Water
Manage the amount of debt you take on by having as clear an idea of your costs as well as resources for the time you are in graduate school. You may be able to minimize your amount of debt by receiving some financial help from family members, by pushing hard with your studies so as to graduate early, or by working more and attending school part-time.
Types of Financial Aid
Fellowships and Scholarships
These are cash awards given by a department, the university, or an outside organization. They are given primarily according to financial need or academic merit. Some are specifically designated for minority or women applicants, or according to guidelines determined by a particular philanthropist. This kind of award does not need to be paid back and they can range from a few hundred to $10,000 or more. Students interested in fellowships and scholarships beyond the departmental level will usually have to take the initiative and apply for them.
The most common assistantships are Teaching Assistantships, Research Assistantships, and Administrative Assistantships. This form of financial aid is provided by the department or university and requires that a graduate student work in exchange for a stipend or for a tuition waiver. Teaching Assistants either teach or assist a faculty member with instruction for introductory courses, Research Assistants help faculty members with their research, and Administrative Assistants work in administrative or student support offices.
Federal Work-Study Program
This program works on the graduate level in the same way as on the undergraduate level. Not all universities participate in this program, but if they do then you may be able to find work in your field of interest.
Internships and Cooperative Education
Paid internships provide an employment opportunity in the community beyond the university that allows a student to both earn money and work in their field of interest. Cooperative education experiences are similar to internships, except the student alternates periods of work with periods of study.
Through this program, the government provides low-interest loans to graduate students. The loans are administered through banks, credit unions, savings and loan institutions, and the universities themselves. Students may borrow up to $18,500 per year up to a maximum of $138,500 (this total includes whatever undergraduate loans you have). There are two kinds of Stafford Loans. Subsidized Stafford Loans are awarded according to financial need. As long as a student is enrolled at least half-time then the government pays any interest that accrues until six-months after graduation or withdrawal. Unsubsidized Stafford Loans are available to students who do not qualify according to financial need. With this loan, students must pay the interest that accrues while they are in school.
These loans are provided for students who show exceptional financial need. The individual university is responsible for administering these loans and in some cases will limit this type of loan to undergraduates. Students may borrow up to $6,000 per year, up to a maximum of $40,000, which includes undergraduate loans.
There are numerous programs that award private loans to graduate students. These loans are based on a student's credit rating rather than on financial need. There are specific loan programs available for students pursuing graduate studies in general fields as well as specific fields such as business, law, and medicine.
Student financial assistance from the U.S. government is reserved for U.S. citizens. International students must count on funding from their home country as well as from departmental and university funds from the schools to which they are applying. They must also utilize outside funding sources such as foundations and other philanthropic organizations.
Basic Tips for Financial Aid Application
Application for financial aid is not automatic. You will need to fill out and submit required aid applications before deadlines. Aid application instructions and deadlines are usually clearly stated in each school's application materials. Some schools require you to apply for aid when applying for admission. Other schools require that you be admitted before applying for financial aid.
Be prepared to submit copies of your federal income tax forms and federal aid transcripts from Luther College. You may want to check the status of your aid application if you receive no response within a reasonable time period. Keep copies of all forms.
* The information in this section was adapted from Game Plan for Getting into Graduate School, by Marion Castellucci.