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How to find graduate school scholarships and grants

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Graduate school can be an excellent investment in your career, and graduate school scholarships and grants can help you foot the bill. If you’re considering a graduate-level degree and you want to avoid racking up more student debt, read on to learn how different aid options can help fill the gaps.

Where to find free financial aid for graduate school

As you prepare to head back to college, student loans may be the first type of financial aid that come to mind. However, you’ll want to keep your eye out for certain types of aid that don’t need to be paid back, including graduate school scholarships and grants.

Scholarships

Scholarships always seem to be targeted to high school students and undergraduate students, but hundreds of companies and organizations hand out graduate school scholarships, sometimes referred to as fellowships.

While you can search for scholarships directly with local organizations, there are also a number of scholarship search engines that compile hundreds of scholarships in one place. If you’re on the hunt for a graduate school scholarship, these websites can help:

  • BigFuture: This College Board search tool lets you search for graduate school scholarships and other financial aid. You can narrow your search based on your future career field, organizations you belong to, the type of award you’re pursuing and more.
  • Fastweb: A leader in scholarship searches, Fastweb features scholarships and grants for graduate students. After you register, you can search based on your year, major and interests.
  • GoGrad: Once you register with GoGrad, you can search for graduate school scholarships based on where you’re going to school, your gender, your military affiliation and more.
  • Sallie Mae’s Graduate School Scholarships: Once you register for free, you’ll have access to $1 billion in graduate school scholarships.
  • Scholarships.com: Even though most of the scholarships available on Scholarships.com are for undergraduates, there are lots of options for grad students. After you create your free profile, you can put what level of schooling you’ve completed or search for grad school scholarships.
  • Unigo: Browse by your intended major, like law, business or medicine. You can also search for scholarships based on merit or need, or look into fellowship programs.

Grants

Like scholarships, grants are a type of funding that doesn’t need to be repaid. With that being said, grants are more likely to require a certain level of financial need to qualify.

There are multiple types of grants for grad school, including:

  • Federal grants: If you’re considering a career in teaching, you may qualify for a Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant. Further, teachers pursuing postbaccalaureate certification may qualify for a federal Pell Grant. Fulbright Grants are also available for a variety of disciplines. To see whether you qualify for federal grants, you’ll need to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
  • State grants: Most states set aside funds for graduate school grants, which may be distributed according to need or merit. As with federal grants, these are typically made available once you submit the FAFSA.
  • School grants: Many schools have grants available for students with financial need or those pursuing specific degrees. For instance, Michigan State University offers fellowship programs for graduate students enrolled in a doctoral or master’s of fine arts program. Contact the financial aid department or graduate department of your school to ask about details.
  • Grants from private organizations: You may also search for grants directly from private organizations, such as the American Association of University Women. Some require you to join the organization first, which usually costs a fee. If you’re only joining the organization for the award, first make sure that the grant you’re after is offered to grad students.

Other ways to pay for graduate school

If you’ve exhausted all of your free money opportunities and still need to cover some funding gaps, there are a few other ways you can pay for grad school:

  • Federal student loans: When you complete the FAFSA, you’re also eligible for graduate and professional loans. While you’re not required to take all of the loans available, you can take as much as you need, depending on the type of loan.
  • Work-study programs: You might also qualify for work-study programs when you complete your FAFSA. These are part-time jobs both undergraduate and graduate students in need are eligible for, and they help you earn money that goes directly toward college costs.
  • Private student loans: Private student loans are provided by private lenders such as banks, credit unions and online lenders. You’ll need decent credit or a creditworthy co-signer to qualify, and you have the potential to qualify for lower student loan rates than you would pay with federal student loans. Just remember that private loans don’t come with federal protections and programs like income-driven repayment or loan forgiveness.
  • Tuition reimbursement: There are dozens of companies that offer tuition reimbursement up to a certain dollar amount, including AT&T, Chipotle, The Home Depot, Amazon and more. Employers can spend up to $5,250 per year in tuition reimbursement or student loan payments per employee, which is tax-free for both you and them.

Paying for graduate school FAQ

Does the FAFSA cover graduate school?

Financial aid through the FAFSA can cover both an undergraduate and graduate degree. When you fill out this form, you’ll see what federal student loan and grant options are available to you.

Can you get a Pell Grant for graduate school?

While Pell Grants are normally awarded only to undergraduate students, graduate students enrolled in a postbaccalaureate teacher certification program can also be eligible.

What is a good GPA for graduate school scholarships?

Candidates for graduate school scholarships typically need a minimum GPA of 3.5 or higher. However, some graduate school scholarships have significantly lower requirements. For example, graduate school scholarships from the Association of American Indian Affairs have a minimum GPA requirement of just 2.0.

Next steps

If you want to limit how much money you borrow for school, you can apply for grad school scholarships and grants. Get and stay organized with a spreadsheet to keep track of all of the free money you’ve applied for and received. This lets you follow the money to make sure that you have enough to cover school. And if you don’t, you’ll know exactly how much you need to fill in with other forms of aid, like student loans.

Learn more:

Written by
Dori Zinn
Contributing writer
Dori Zinn has been a personal finance journalist for more than a decade. Aside from her work for Bankrate, her bylines have appeared on CNET, Yahoo Finance, MSN Money, Wirecutter, Quartz, Inc. and more. She loves helping people learn about money, specializing in topics like investing, real estate, borrowing money and financial literacy.
Edited by
Student loans editor