Navigating Graduate Funding Opportunities

3 women graduating

Find More Ways to Fund Your Graduate Education

College is getting more expensive all the time, and today many jobs also require—or prefer—a graduate degree. How can you afford graduate school without taking out more loans? Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to seek funding, although it may take some effort to find them. 

“Funding for graduate school is possible, but it can be challenging to see what’s out there,” says Kamil Donaldson, a career strategist at CollegeCode, a talent and development firm for early-stage professionals. “There are lots of resources, but you will need to take the initiative and do the research.” 

Here are five tips for finding graduate funding opportunities. 

Find out if your program offers funding. 

Many schools offer scholarships for students attending their grad programs. Find out which funding opportunities are available to students in your program, Donaldson says. You might want to decide where to attend graduate school based on how much funding the program can offer you, she says. 

Some universities with Ph.D. programs will offer funding to students who earned a Master’s degree from the same school. For instance, Donaldson received a Master’s in social organizational psychology from Columbia University. If she decides to return to Columbia full-time to get at Ph.D. in that field, the university will fund a portion of her tuition.  

“Research the top graduate programs for your major and then find out which ones offer funding and then decide if the program is the right fit financially,” Donaldson says.  

Look beyond the website. 

Not all funding opportunities are listed online. “Sometimes you have to call the school to find out what they offer,” Donaldson says. “Find a program you’re interested in, and then call and ask what they can do to help you fund your graduate degree.” Keep an eye out for supplemental applications for scholarships when you apply to graduate programs, she says.  

For instance, when Denise Williams earned her Master’s in special education from The City College of New York, she received two scholarships specific to her graduate program. One was available to students who promised to work at an urban school after graduation and the other was available to students who lived in an urban community. “I actively looked for scholarships available at my school,” says Williams, who grew up in Brooklyn and is currently teaching at the Ember Charter Schools in Brooklyn. 

Realize that obtaining funding is competitive. 

Even if you do find funding opportunities, keep in mind you won’t be the only one applying, says Chelsea Hardy, a digital commerce and site experience senior associate at Tory Burch. Hardy is currently figuring out how to fund her MBA. “It’s very competitive,” she says. It’s about having the full package—stellar undergraduate grades, extracurricular activities and experience in your field of study. 

That doesn’t mean you should give up and just take out loans, Hardy says. “The biggest mistake I see graduate students making is applying for loans and then hoping they will land six-figure job right out of graduate school to pay off those loans,” she says. 

It’s also an error to assume you need to attend an expensive university to get a good job after graduation, Williams says. “Do your research and find out what jobs you qualify for with your degree before you choose a school based on its name,” Williams says. “You don’t have to choose the six-figure school to get a job.” 

Ask your employer about tuition reimbursement. 

If you’re working full-time, ask your boss or HR manager if the company will shoulder some educational costs. If the degree you’re pursuing would benefit your company, your employer might be willing to reimburse some of your tuition expenses, Donaldson says.   

Tap into your network. 

Look for scholarships specific to your life experiences, Hardy says. For instance, find out if any of the groups you’re associated with offer scholarships. “I’m tapping into my network and seeing what opportunities and resources are out there for me,” she says.  

This could include funding opportunities specific to your gender, race or ethnicity, especially if you are part of an underrepresented group in your field of interest. For instance, people of color—especially women of color—are vastly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math fields, so there are often funding opportunities targeted to recruiting them for Master’s programs. For example, AAUW offers Selected Professions Fellowships for women pursuing master’s programs in architecture, computer science, engineering, math or statistics. Funding is also offered to women of color pursuing a master’s in business administration, a law degree or a doctorate in medicine. 

So far, Hardy has found several possibilities for funding from her local community in Harlem, her local YMCA and her Black sorority. On average, Hardy spends about two to three hours each week researching funding opportunities. “You have to dig a bit deeper for graduate school funding,” she says. 

– Lisa Rabasca Roepe