Types of Financial Aid for Graduate Students

It's just a fact: graduate school is expensive. The average cost of graduate school is a hefty $31,000 a year, and this figure can be a lot higher depending on the school and program.

Luckily, there are many forms of financial aid available which can greatly reduce the burden of this cost. Here are the most common forms of financial aid available to graduate students:

Scholarships

Scholarships are money given to students which does not need to be paid back. Scholarships may be awarded based on any of the following factors: academic excellence, talent, financial need, field of study, or ethnic background. Scholarships range in amount, and may be awarded as one lump sum, or as installments paid throughout a certain number of years. A student could receive a one-time scholarship worth $2000, for instance, or she might receive a scholarship worth $1000 per year for four years.

Scholarships could come directly from your school, or from a private foundation or institution. In many cases, students must compete for scholarships, through a process that may involve essay-writing, performance, and/or interviews. In other cases, scholarships are awarded to certain students who fulfill certain requirements or criteria. To find out which scholarships you might qualify for, contact your school, or look online for scholarship search engines (FastWeb is a popular choice).

Grants

Grants are similar to scholarships in that the money never needs to be paid back. Grants are awarded by the government or by private sources. Government grants are typically given to students who otherwise couldn't afford to go to school, such as those coming from a low-income household. These grants come with certain requirements: namely, the student must keep his GPA above a certain level, or else forfeit the grant money. Private grants (which are often the same thing as scholarships) have their own requirements which vary depending on the source of funding. Grants can be applied towards research, projects, travel, or experiments.

Fellowships

Like scholarships and grants, fellowships do not need to be paid back. Fellowship money may come from the government or from private organizations. The money typically comes in the form of semesterly stipends, and may also cover the cost of tuition. In some cases, recipients of fellowships are chosen by the school's faculty. In other cases, students may apply and compete for fellowships, and money is awarded based on merit, faculty choice, and need.

Assistantships

Graduate students who receive assistantships are paid to work as teacher assistants (TA), research assistants (RA), or some other on-campus job related to your major or department. Money for TAs comes directly from the school, while money for RAs come from federal or private grants. Assistantships vary in amount, based on government aid and faculty grants. In many ways, assistantships are similar to work-study programs in undergraduate school, and require the student to perform a job in exchange for money. TAs commonly teach introductory-level classes to undergraduate students, and RAs commonly help faculty do research in laboratories. The specifics of assistantships vary greatly by school, department, and program, so contact your school for more information.

Loans

Unlike grants and scholarships, loans must be paid back. Loans are usually need-based, and may come from the government, a bank or credit union, the school, or a private source. Students have many options when it comes to loans. The options vary in amount borrowed, interest rates, payment plans, and academic requirements. Private companies (such as banks) tend to have higher interest rates and stricter requirements than the government.

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