Financing Graduate School

Access Group provides a useful overview of the Graduate and Professional School Financial Aid options

Institutional Funding

Many institutions offer their own funding to graduate students. While these funds are sometimes only available to PhD candidates, some are offered to masters students as well. The awards are often made by individual departments. Check the department website, as well as the university’s graduate studies website, to see what may be on offer.

  • Tuition waivers – some universities offer tuition waivers to students based on need or merit. There is no payback required, no work requirement, and no money exchanges hands.
  • Fellowships/Stipends – These monies are intended to support a student’s living expenses and supplies and also do not require repayment or work.
  • Assistantships – These awards require some kind of work in exchange for the funds, but the payment is usually higher than what would normally be paid for the kind of work done. Three common forms of assistantship are teaching (TA), research (RA), and graduate (GA).


Students can borrow money privately, or under a variety of federal programs. The main federal loan program for graduate students is the Stafford Loan. Stafford loans are not based on financial need and may be subsidized or unsubsidized. With an unsubsidized loan you will be charged interest shortly after you leave school; a subsidized loan does not charge interest during re-payment. Another kind of loan – the Perkins Loan - requires demonstrated financial need. For these federal loans and others, you will be required to turn in a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This multi-page document will take at least a couple of hours to complete. To learn more about federal loans consult the U.S. Department of Education.

University websites will have information about these loans as well, and most universities require you to fill out a FAFSA in order to be considered for their own financial assistance. Be sure to check their webpages for instructions.


There are a number of internet resources that allow you to search for scholarships based on field of study, identity, academic merit, and other factors.

Grad School Time Line

Junior Year
  • Begin researching available programs
    • Review grad school guides/directories
    • Request promotional materialsVisit schools' websites
    • Talk to faculty/alumni/current students in the program
  • Start exploring financial aid resources
  • Sign up for required standardized test and take a practice test
  • Attend Career Center graduate school workshops
  • Identify potential letter writers
  • Order an unofficial transcript and check for and correct any discrepancies
  • Take the required standardized test
Senior Year  Fall Semester
  • Write the first draft of your statement of purpose
  • Request your letters of recommendation from faculty
  • Order official transcripts
  • Write final draft of statement of purpose
  • Complete and mail your applications
  • Apply for aid available through program; assistantships, fellowships, scholarships, etc.
Spring Semester
  • Complete and submit financial aid applications
  • Visit prospective campuses if possible, and talk to faculty/students to help you make your final decision
  • Follow-up with schools to make sure your file is complete
  • After receiving acceptance from the school of your choice, send in the required deposit, and contact other schools and decline acceptances
  • Write thank you notes to people who helped you