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



  1. Dr. Mumbly,

    Thank you for giving such great insight into the graduate school process. I’m interested in securing a teaching assistant position, but I’m unsure of how to properly stipulate an interest in my statement of purpose.


    1. You could simply state that you look forward to the possibility of getting some experience in teaching, which would likely come in the form of teaching-assistantships. Or, you could just leave this out of your statement of purpose altogether, unless the program to which you are applying explicitly requests that you indicate your interest in TA positions in your application. At most school and in most programs, allocation of TAships will be done only after students are already accepted into the program.


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