Getting into graduate school is already a challenge on its own, and funding the program once admitted is even harder. Graduate studies involve not just tuition, books and other miscellaneous fees. If you are seriously planning to enter a graduate program, you have to consider how you can pay for your living expenses, as well. As mentioned in my previous post (part 1 of my Free Money series), scholarships are only one way of getting free money towards your higher education, my post today is going to cover all you need to know about fellowships.


A fellowship is a type of financial aid that is awarded to a graduate student to support them in their full-time course of study without associated teaching or assistantship responsibilities. Fellowships are generally merit-based awards to support a student who is going to school full time.National fellowships are highly competitive, with most applicants in the top 10-15% of the class. Fellowships also often look for a record of leadership, public service, research experience, and meaningful participation in extracurricular activities. 

Fellowships provide graduate students with learning opportunities that can help them with their careers post-graduation and earn money at the same time. Whether they are participating in research, entering a training program related to their field, or doing work in their community, fellowships can provide money for tuition, housing, and other expenses. In addition, depending on the specific fellowship program, students may be able to receive health care coverage and assistance with student loans.

Institutional Fellowships

Institutional fellowship funding is awarded to the student by the university, and typically includes full tuition and stipend support, although the stipend levels vary depending on a student’s division and the prestige of the award.


A research fellow is an academic research position at a university, either permanent or temporary depending on the institution. A research fellow may act either as an independent investigator or under the supervision of a faculty member in the same field. In contrast to a research assistant, to be a research fellow normally requires a doctoral degree or equivalent work experience. Research fellows often undertake postdoctoral research or have some mild teaching responsibilities.

Fellows are expected to become experts in their field, so institutions are willing to help these students focus full time on their research in hopes that one day they will contribute to research, teaching, and innovations in that field. Examples of such opportunities include:

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program

The University of Texas at Austin offers graduate students The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program. These are five-year graduate fellowships for graduate students in the fields of science and engineering, and about 1,000 of these awards are given nationwide. 

•Tom Slick Graduate Research Fellowship

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University offers graduate students the Tom Slick Graduate Research Fellowship Program, providing financial support for the research training of graduate students focused on the agriculture of Southwest Texas. 

Baker and Emery Fellowships

Brown University’s Harvey A. Baker Fellowships are awarded annually to students of the graduating class undertaking graduate study at any university in the U.S. or abroad. The Anne Crosby Emery Alumnae Fellowships are awarded annually to women in the graduating class undertaking graduate study at any university in the U.S. or abroad. These Fellowships aim to stimulate the intellectual advancement of graduating students.


A teaching fellow (sometimes referred to as graduate student instructor) is an advanced graduate student at a university whose role involves teaching undergraduate classes as the primary instructor in their field of study or specialty. Teaching fellows differ from teaching assistants in that they are responsible for all aspects of the course, including lecture, whereas teaching assistants help the instructor by performing supplementary course-related tasks such as grading and holding a discussion section or laboratory. However, many graduate students who have served as teaching assistants become teaching fellows later on in their academic study.

Because teaching fellows hold greater responsibilities and have a larger time commitment, teaching fellows generally receive higher stipends. Examples of such opportunities include:

Brown/Wheaton Faculty Fellows Program

The Brown/Wheaton Faculty Fellows Program is a collaborative program between Brown University and Wheaton College that annually offers graduate students the opportunity to experience faculty life, allowing winning fellows to teach a course for one semester at the college.

Graduate Teaching Fellows Program

Each year Vanderbilt hires several Graduate Teaching Fellows (GTFs) as part of the university’s efforts to mentor and train graduate students for future faculty careers.  The GTF Program recipients design and facilitate workshops for graduate students at Vanderbilt and assist senior staff in various projects.

Teaching Fellow Program

Yale University’s Teaching Fellow Program (TFP) allows graduate students learn to become effective teachers under faculty guidance. Such learning is integral to the preparation of graduate students for professional lives of teaching and scholarship. TFP recipients are urged to participate in the programs offered by Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning, designed to prepare graduates for a variety of classroom environments.

Departmental Opportunities

There are numerous merit-based fellowships that are awarded to graduate students, including fellowships designed to enhance diversity on campus. Fellowship awards for incoming graduate students are made by the graduate program to which they are applying. Departmental fellowships are usually open to students from a particular discipline and the funding decisions are made at the departmental faculty level. Therefore, the submission deadlines, notification dates, and award packages vary by department and fellowship. Students should direct their questions about these opportunities to their faculty mentors in their specific program for information about that program’s opportunities and application procedures.

Portable Fellowships

Many institutions encourage graduate students to seek financial support from external sources. Attempts to do so will be viewed favorably by the graduate option admission committees and the academic options/advisers. Portable fellowships are funded by organizations outside your academic institution.



Federal fellowships are funded by federal agencies if you’re attending a graduate program in an area that directly benefits an agency. They are portable because the funding isn’t connected with any particular school, but travels with you. Such fellowships are awarded based on need, merit, or both. Examples of such opportunities include:

National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship

This is a competitive, portable fellowship provided by the Department of Defense that is awarded to students who intend to pursue graduate study in: Aeronautical Engineering; Biosciences; Chemical Engineering; Chemistry; Civil Engineering; Cognitive, Neural, and Behavioral Sciences; Computer and Computational Sciences; Electrical Engineering; Geosciences; Materials Science and Engineering; Mathematics; Mechanical Engineering; Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering; Oceanography; or Physics.

Public Health Lab & Newborn Screening Fellowships

There are two Public Health Lab and Newborn Screening Fellowship programs offered by the Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL). The Public Health Laboratory Fellowship is a program the APHL is working in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to design a “competency-based public health laboratory fellowship that supports various disciplines critical to workforce needs.” The Newborn Screening Laboratory Fellowship is a two year training program offered to a doctorate-level student to conduct newborn screening and/or genetics research.

The David L. Boren Graduate Fellowship

The National Security Education Program supports the study of under-represented languages and other areas considered critical to U.S. national security. The David L. Boren Graduate Fellowship is provides graduate students support for overseas study of language and culture. This national merit-based program requires recipients to work for the federal government for at least a year following graduation and has awarded approximately 3,500 Boren Scholarships since its implementation in 1994.


Independent fellowships are similar to federal fellowships, except that it is provided by a private foundation instead of the government. Because this is such a highly funded market, compiling a comprehensive list is impossible. Examples of popular opportunities include:

Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship

The Microsoft Research Fellowship is a two-year program that provides 100% financial support for PhD students nominated by their university’s department to help them to focus on their research in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, or Mathematics.

The National Research Council (NRC) Graduate Research Awards

The National Research Council conducts annual Research Associateship Programs through the administration of programs offering graduate, postdoctoral, and senior level research opportunities with sponsoring federal laboratories and other research organizations to promote excellence in scientific and technological research.

International Dissertation Research Fellowship

The Mellon International Dissertation Research Fellowship (IDRF) offers up to a year’s support to 80 graduate students in humanities and social sciences enrolled in a United States’ PhD program and conducting dissertation research on non-US topics. The IDRF is awarded to promote a range of approaches and research designs that stretch beyond single-site or single-country research. Applicants are encouraged to focus on comparative work at the regional, national, and international levels and comparison of cases across time.

Popular Websites

For students who are unfamiliar with fellowships, or how to search for them, it can be difficult to determine what is out there and available. Below is a list of popular website that offer fellowship opportunities to graduate students:

STEM Opportunities

The mission of the Institute for Broadening Participation (IBP) is to increase diversity in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce; connecting underrepresented students with STEM funding and research opportunities. IBP’s search engine allows graduate students to search for over 300 STEM programs, matching them based on best-fit qualifications. is promoted as one of the leading online resources for graduate school. Thousands of students use this site to search for the best fit programs nationwide for their educational needs and interests.


The California Institute of Technology prides itself on expanding human knowledge and benefit society through research integrated with education. Aside from offering numerous institutional fellowships to graduate students, Caltech encourages students to seek financial support from external sources by compiling an extensive list of governmental and private funding opportunities from around the country.

University of Southern California

The University of Southern California (USC) is ranked first in the nation among all universities of the same size in its computer science research program, and has the largest science, engineering and health graduate programs of all private research universities. To help students fund these programs, USC offers a 43 paged list of federal programs and fellowships on the university’s research website. Please keep in mind that this list is from June 2012, so some program requirements may have changed or been discontinued.


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