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Graduate or professional school can be an excellent investment in your career, positioning you as an expert in your chosen field and upping your overall earning potential. A master’s degree can boost your earning potential by 20 percent over a bachelor’s degree. If you have spent years in a specific field and are looking to pivot your focus, graduate school can also help you to start a new profession.
Tuition and expenses can stack up, so having a plan for how you’ll pay is key to making your investment worthwhile. Scholarships and grants are great funding options, as they do not need to be paid back and can lower how much you’ll need to pay out of pocket for your course of study.
Where to find free financial aid for graduate school
Student loans may be the first type of financial aid that comes to mind, but aid that don’t have to be repaid will be better for you financially. Start your search with graduate school scholarships and grants.
Connect with your institution’s financial aid office to explore the types of financial aid that may be available to you. Some financial aid can be specific to your course of study, while other types of aid base eligibility requirements on your level of financial need. Your academic performance, personal interests, and unique abilities may qualify you for other awards.
By completing the Federal Application for Free Student Aid (FAFSA), you can learn what your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) for school will be, as well as what kinds of aid you may qualify for. In addition, pursuing a scholarship search on your own can help turn up valuable opportunities for free funding.
Where to find scholarships for graduate school
Scholarships often seem to target high school and undergraduate students, but hundreds of companies and organizations hand out graduate school scholarships, sometimes called fellowships.
While you can search for scholarships directly with local organizations, scholarship search engines compile hundreds of scholarships in one place. If you’re searching 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 factors like your future career field, the organizations you belong to and the type of award you’re pursuing.
- Fastweb: A leader in scholarship searches, Fastweb features scholarships and grants for graduate students. After registering, 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 factors like your school, gender and military affiliation.
- 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 scholarships available on Scholarships.com are for undergraduates, there are many 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.
Where to find grants for graduate school
Like scholarships, grants are a type of funding that doesn’t need to be repaid. That said, grants are more likely to require a certain level of financial need to qualify.
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).
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.
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.
- 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. Remember that private loans don’t have 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.
- 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.
The bottom line
You can apply for grad school scholarships and grants if you want to limit how much money you borrow for school. Get and stay organized with a spreadsheet to track all 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. If you don’t, you’ll know exactly how much you need to fill in with other forms of aid, like student loans.
Paying for graduate school FAQ
Financial aid through the FAFSA can cover both an undergraduate and graduate degree. When you fill out this form, you’ll see the available federal student loan and grant options.
While Pell Grants are normally awarded only to undergraduate students, graduate students enrolled in a postbaccalaureate teacher certification program can also be eligible.
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 2.5.