How to find and apply for graduate school scholarships

According to data from the last census, around 4 million students pursue a graduate program in the U.S. every year to further their education with a master’s degree or graduate certificate. And for good reason—from advancing skill sets to increasing pay opportunities, there can be several benefits to having a graduate degree. 

But the cost of these programs can be significant. If you’re looking for ways to pay for a graduate degree, here’s a look at how to find and apply for a graduate school scholarship.

Key takeaways

  • The cost of a graduate degree can range from $30,000 to more than $200,000 depending on the school, degree and program.
  • Scholarships may be available based on factors like financial need, academic merit or personal or family background.
  • Graduate students can find and apply for scholarships in a number of ways, like through their school’s financial aid office, through federal or state agencies or by using scholarship search engines.

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Can I get a scholarship for graduate study?

Scholarships aren’t limited to undergraduate students. Many universities, organizations, businesses and government programs offer scholarships for graduate students. 

There are many types of scholarships. Some are based on merit—things like academic performance or other talents. Others are based on financial need. Beyond those two categories, there are specialty scholarships based on a person’s background or other traits—like a military scholarship.

To find out whether you’re eligible for a particular scholarship, you’ll need to review the eligibility requirements and application details for that scholarship. 

How much scholarship can I get?

Different scholarships may award different amounts of money. And scholarships don’t need to be repaid—they’re considered gifts, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

How to find graduate school scholarships

Your school’s financial aid office, federal and state agencies and your local library are some places to find scholarship opportunities. 

But using online resources might help you cast a wider net on your search. One place to start? A scholarship search engine, like the U.S. Department of Labor’s scholarship finder. It allows you to search more than 8,000 scholarships, fellowships, grants and other financial aid award opportunities. It even has a function that lets you filter based on broad factors, including:

  • Location
  • Level of study
  • Award type
  • Deadline to apply

Tips for applying for graduate scholarships

Here are a few tips to consider when applying for a graduate scholarship:

  • Complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) application. While it’s not always required, some scholarship funds and private organizations require you to submit a FAFSA application to determine your financial aid eligibility.
  • Don’t limit your opportunities. Cast a wide net. And don’t count yourself out of opportunities before reading the application details and eligibility requirements to see whether you might qualify. 
  • Submit your application early. Some scholarships might stop accepting applications before their advertised deadline if they’re reviewed on a rolling basis, so it might help to submit your application early.
  • Ask for letters of recommendation. Having a former professor, colleague or coach submit a letter of recommendation on your behalf could help your chances of being selected.

FAQs about graduate school scholarships

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions graduate students have when applying for scholarships:

When should I apply for a scholarship?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, some application deadlines can be as early as a year before school starts. But in general, each scholarship will have its own deadline. So be sure to check for dates when you’re reviewing applications. And keep in mind that some may stop accepting applications even before their advertised deadline if they’re reviewing them on a rolling basis. 

How do I receive my scholarship money?

If you’re chosen as a scholarship recipient, the scholarship provider should let you know how they plan to manage the funds. But if you’re not sure, be sure to contact them and ask. In some cases, the money may be sent to you directly as a check. Or it may go directly to your school to be applied toward tuition or other fees.

If I receive a scholarship, will it affect my financial aid?

Yes, a scholarship can affect your financial aid. You will need to let your school’s financial aid office know if you’ve received a scholarship so they can subtract it from your overall tuition and fees. Your financial aid will then be recalculated to help cover some or all of the remaining costs.

What other ways can I finance graduate school?

Besides a scholarship, there are other ways to help pay for graduate school, including:

Graduate school scholarships in a nutshell

Graduate programs can be expensive. But if you’re selected to receive a scholarship, the funds can help you offset or cover the costs without worrying about how you’ll pay the money back.

If you’re looking for a scholarship for graduate school, contact your school’s financial aid office or use a scholarship search engine to find an opportunity that might fit your needs.

And if you need other ways to help pay for your graduate school program, you could also look into applying for a student loan.

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