The best kind of financial aid is money you don't have to pay back, such as scholarships, fellowships, and grants. Grants for graduate students can be the difference between earning an advanced degree and ending at the bachelor’s level. But while scholarships are often merit-based, grants are more likely to be need-based. There are many grants available if you know where to look. The following includes a basic overview of the types of grants available.
There has been an increase in career-specific grants, funding given to students focusing on a specific career goal. If you are undecided, or open to any major, consider pursuing a profession in high-demand fields. These high-demand areas of study include foreign language, special education, math, and science. If your career objectives include a specialized role, or advanced position, you might find grant funding that specifically supports your goals.
For example, the TEACH Grant is a non-need based grant awarded to students completing a master’s degree in specific education disciplines.
Another good source for funding is college-specific grants. Your search for funding should include schools that specialize in the field you are interested in. Many colleges have grant funds set up by specific departments or by the alumni, which can be used towards opportunities that will give you valuable experience and enhance your professional credentials—such as internships, academic research, and other career advancement activities.
Opportunities are widespread and highly individualized by the universities that offer them, so it is up to you to uncover what opportunities your school gives graduate students. Financial aid professionals and program administrators can also provide valuable insight into available aid. Here are a few examples from well-known colleges:
· Graduate School Diversity Enhancement Grants are offered by North Carolina State University, to bring varied backgrounds and points of view into the school’s academic community. Minority applicants must enroll full-time and maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA. Master’s degree candidates are eligible for up to 4 semesters of support, while doctoral students may receive as many as 6 semesters of aid under this grant program.
· Portland State Office of Graduate Studies administers a range of grants and awards that benefit various sectors of the student body, including degree candidates who are physically disabled and those pursuing careers in public service.
Federal grants are distributed by the government and are for students with high financial need. Eligibility for grants is determined by your Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Federal grants are primarily for undergraduates, although first-time graduate students can be considered for certain programs. A couple government-sponsored programs do offer grant money to graduate students, including:
· Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) – To stimulate the declining amount of interest in teaching degrees, this program provides thousands of dollars yearly to individuals pursuing careers in the high-demand teaching field. However, recipients must meet the following three conditions:
1. Teach in a highly needed field (such as special needs/gifted education, science/math/technology/engineering (STEM), and English second language (ESL))
2. Teach at a school that serves low-income students
3. Complete at least four academic years as a teacher, within eight years of graduating
· Fulbright Grants are sponsored by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural affairs. This post baccalaureate funding promotes the international exchange of ideas by financing study abroad projects.
· The National Science Foundation issues grants and partners with other programs to promote post baccalaureate education and research in scientific fields.
· Ronald E. McNair Post baccalaureate Achievement Program Through a grant competition, funds are awarded to institutions of higher education to prepare eligible participants for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. Participants are from disadvantaged backgrounds and have demonstrated strong academic potential. The goal of this program is to increase the attainment of Ph.D. degrees from students from underrepresented groups of society.
Each individual state funds graduate student grants in a unique way, so it is important to get the details from your state’s board of higher education. If you want to apply to graduate school, you need to investigate your state’s grant programs. There are many need-based and even specialized grants offered by a range of states. Not every program and application is the same. Thus, you will need to look around to see what your home state has to offer. To qualify for this type of aid, remember that you will need to be a legal resident of the state for a set amount of time.
Some state grants are issued by government agencies, while others come from state organizations. For example:
· California State University System issues over $80 million in graduate grants to low-income students each year. Some 20,000 students within the system benefit from this generous state grant program, which waives tuition for the neediest students – those with Expected Family Contributions that are less than $800.
· Montana Academy of Sciences funds small grants for students engaged in scientific research at approved Montana colleges. Grants like these won’t pay your whole tuition bill, but provide supplementary funding to ease your expense load.
There are numerous specific grants available today at graduate students’ disposal. Like scholarships, you can probably find a grant for any and all unusual characteristics you can think of. Think about what makes you stand out, and look beyond the resume when seeking out grants you may be eligible for. You don’t need a stellar GPA or impressive standardized test scores to land a grant. When looking for graduate school grants, you should always consider your interests, hobbies, and demographics such as your religion, ethnicity, background, and sexuality:
Minorities and other groups benefit from graduate school grants that are designed specifically to promote their causes. You can find grants available for African American, Native American, Asian- American, and Hispanic populations (among others) because these groups have struggled to send their children to school. Many non-profits afford funding to such groups to help them get an edge on the competition. Look for resources that speak to your heritage, like the ones listed on the Open Education Database website.
Women are aided by grants that strive to increase graduate school enrollment among female students. If you are looking for graduate school grants, keep in mind that there will be general funding opportunities and there will also be those directed towards degree programs where women have been underrepresented; for example, science or mathematics.
The military is another source of college funding, which rewards soldiers and their families for service to their country. There are funds for students who are a member of one of the branches of military. People in active and inactive duty may be able to apply for grants from the military itself or from organizations around the world. Additionally, there are funds for children and spouses of people currently serving. Be sure to inquire with the military section of you or your loved one so that you can explore funding opportunities.
Some families have never had members attend college. So, first-generation college students receive aid from organizations as well. If you are the first from your family to go to college, be sure to investigate this resource. Your school’s financial aid office is well-versed on the grants, scholarships, and loans they offer.
A good way to start your search for educational funding is to get in touch with the local chapter of the Student Assistance Commission, or the financial aid office at your school. Both venues will have a lot of information on what’s available from both federal and private sectors. Don’t be timid about asking, you never know what kind of financial assistance you can get.
Though you want to be sure that you fit a grant’s characteristics, you should be willing to try for just about any graduate school grant you see. Take the time to be thorough when it comes to graduate school grants. You want to show the organization granting funds that you truly deserve this money. Grants really can make attending school a possibility. Take this hunt seriously so that you can find as many grants as possible.