Month: September 2010

Paying for graduate school

Let’s face it, graduate school, in most fields, can be expensive and working full-time while in grad school is definitely not recommended. Aside from asking your parents for support, there are many other great sources of income available to graduate students, many of which do not require too much work or time. Here are the ways that you can pay for grad school:

Scholarships, grants, bursaries and fellowships

Scholarships, grants, bursaries and fellowships are essentially the same thing, in that none of them requires you to pay back any amount that you are awarded.  They are usually very competitive and are awarded based on merit, especially grades.  In some respects this is unfortunate, because undergraduate grades are not always the best predictor of success in graduate school.

Private Scholarships

Unlike scholarships awarded by the government, another option may be private student scholarships, which are awarded by professional groups, banks and non-profit organizations. These awards vary in eligibility criteria and application deadlines.  Many have citizenship restrictions and some must be held at a school within the student’s home state or province. This is important information to have before applying, because there is a good chance that you will be choosing between graduate programs located in regions far from each other. Also keep in mind that unless your have a large amount of money set aside, it is strongly recommended that you apply for as many grants, scholarships and fellowships that you are eligible to receive.


For the most part assistantships such as teaching assistantships (T.A.) and research assistantships (R.A.) require that you perform certain tasks, such as teach a class, perform certain duties on campus or assist professors in their work. Assistantships are excellent sources of funding, because they provide a steady paycheck, but more importantly because they give you experience within the field that you are studying. Although the salary will vary a great deal from one university to the next, in general, these types of positions generally carry a lighter workload and are better paying than many part-time jobs off-campus.

Tuition and other fee waivers

This type of financial support comes in the form of covering specific costs, such as your tuition and is usually provided by the graduate program in question. International students, for example, sometimes receive special consideration by receiving a student fee remission, in which they are charged academic rates as the same rate as a student with domestic citizenship. Some schools are more generous than others. It’s your responsibility to contact the financial aid office at your school for details and deadlines.


Unlike scholarships or other similar types of aid, loans are calculated based on financial need. They must be repaid, plus interest. Many students begin their financial planning for graduate school by assuming that loans will constitute the main part of their support. It might turn out this way for some graduate students because this is precisely the way that they planned it! It can be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Unfortunately, students sometimes fail to educate themselves about the many potential sources of financial support for which they can compete and find themselves having to borrow money for graduate school. Loans are usually easier to qualify for as a grad student than as an undergraduate, because in most cases, you will no longer be living at home. As an independent student, your assets and income are probably substantially lower than those of your parents, so your financial need will be much greater. It is important to make sure that your parents are not claiming you as a dependent for tax purposes.

There are 2 types of loans:

Subsidized loans mean that the government will pay any interest incurred on your loan for the time that you are in school and often include a deferral period of up to 6 months after graduation. Most loans have a 10 to 30 years payment plan.  Subsidized loans are awarded based on financial need.

Unsubsidized loans mean that you are required to pay interest right from the time that you receive the loan. All students are eligible for this type of loan.

Loan support does offer at least one advantage over some of the alternatives, such as T.A. and R.A., because they do not require any effort or dedication. Graduate students are often very busy and you may be glad that you don’t have to earn your money by correcting papers or spending hours washing test tubes as a research assistant.

Employment subsidies for education

This type of support comes from companies, firms or organizations, which encourage their staff to become better educated. Some companies will allow you to both work and study on a part-time basis, while others may grant you a leave of absence in order to pursue full-time studies. In either case, it is very likely that you will be asked to stay with the company in question for an agreed period of time (usually varies between 4 and 5 years). How much support you receive as well as the process by which you are reimbursed will vary considerably between companies, so it is really important that you are aware of all the restrictions and commitments that you are agreeing to prior to accepting this type of support.

Whatever your financial situation, remember to start searching for funding opportunities and applying for them as early as possible. Arranging for scholarships and grant applications can be quite variable, some requiring lengthy preparation, including letters of recommendation or letters of purpose. It is important to be organized and keep track of the various deadlines, as most awards are competitive and few exceptions are made for late applications. Also, some schools will automatically consider all their applicants for funding, while others require separate paper work. Don’t get caught by surprise. For more info on applying to graduate school, visit

It is simply not enough to be smart: How you come across as a person makes a big difference

One major difference between undergraduate and graduate school is the nature of the interpersonal and work relationships that students have with faculty members, and with student peers. In graduate school, you may need to work closely and cooperatively with others – with other students, or with one or more professors, for example – and your overall success may depend on how good you are at working with others. You will be around certain other students and professors on an almost daily basis, and for a few years. You will likely get to know some of the faculty members well enough to be on a first-name basis with them. Even the ways in which you deal with secretaries and other university staff might be different – probably more friendly – than when you were an undergraduate.

There may be a significant amount of independent work involved in earning a master’s or PhD, but it is not generally possible to avoid certain situations, from time to time, in which good interpersonal skills are essential for success.

In graduate school, you will be part of a special community within your academic department, and how you fare will depend to some extent on how well you get along with others. You will be highly visible much of the time, unlike most undergraduate students who may feel more or less anonymous among the crowd in large classes, without ever having significant contact with any of their professors. In graduate school, certain professors, and other graduate students, might get to know you rather well, and they are likely to develop opinions about your personality and character based on the cumulation of all the interactions they have with you. It is difficult to blend into the background when you are a graduate student, so the social environment of graduate school favors people who are reasonable, likeable, and who communicate well. Admissions committees and other graduate program faculty members want to fill their programs with students who fit this bill.

It is simply not enough to be smart. Unfortunately, this fact is largely unappreciated by the majority of applicants, who pay little or no attention to how they come across as a person to those who will be making decisions about their application. Like it or not, your interpersonal skills will be on display at several different points in the application process. The fate of your application will depend largely on how these skills are perceived.

Most importantly, your chances of being successful in the long-term – even after you get your PhD – will depend, to a significant extent, on whether certain people you meet at graduate school like you, or not. It is a frequent occurrence during most academic careers, for example, to come into professional contact, in any of a number of ways, with one’s former grad-school peers. The other person can sometimes be in a position to either help you with something or not, or they could either put in a good word for you or discredit your character. This kind of situation arises more often than you might expect. For at least a few years after receiving a PhD, people are extremely dependent on positive references from faculty members who knew them when they were in graduate school. Just as you need effective letters of reference from the right people in order to get into graduate school, you will also need those kinds of references when you look for a job, after graduate school. Most employers will be just as interested in your ability to get along with them, and with other employees, as in the specific skills or knowledge you possess.