Financing Graduate School

Graduate school can be very expensive. Tuition costs are generally the same as for undergraduate studies, with private institutions usually costing more than public ones. In addition to tuition costs, prospective graduate students must consider the cost of application fees; admission test and preparation course fees; costs for visiting and interviewing for a program; moving and living expenses; textbooks; and lost income during the graduate school years. Students who are leaving college with considerable debt are wise to think long and hard about incurring more debt for graduate school.

There are, however, sources of funding based on merit and/or need for many students. Finding these sources requires a willingness to research one’s options – a process you should begin at the same time you are considering applying to schools. These options may include getting tuition waivers, discounts, and stipends from the universities themselves; taking out private or government loans, or working on or off campus while enrolled. Prospective students may also apply for national merit fellowships or scholarships for graduate school.  Below is an overview of the kinds of funding you can pursue, and where to begin.

Institutional Funding

Many institutions offer their own funding to graduate students. While these funds are sometimes only available to PhD candidates, some are offered to masters students as well. The awards are often made by individual departments. Check the department website, as well as the university’s graduate studies website, to see what may be on offer.

  • Tuition waivers – some universities offer tuition waivers to students based on need or merit. There is no payback required, no work requirement, and no money exchanges hands.
  • Fellowships/Stipends – These monies are intended to support a student’s living expenses and supplies and also do not require repayment or work.
  • Assistantships – These awards require some kind of work in exchange for the funds, but the payment is usually higher than what would normally be paid for the kind of work done. Three common forms of assistantship are teaching (TA), research (RA), and graduate (GA). Most often available in engineering and arts and sciences programs, they also appear in other fields, and can be offered to either masters or doctoral students.


Students can borrow money privately, or under a variety of federal programs. The main federal loan program for graduate students is the Stafford Loan. Stafford loans are not based on financial need and may be subsidized or unsubsidized.  With an unsubsidized loan you will be charged interest shortly after you leave school; a subsidized loan does not charge interest during re-payment. Another kind of loan – the Perkins Loan - requires demonstrated financial need. For these federal loans and others, you will be required to turn in a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This multi-page document will take at least a couple of hours to complete. To learn more about federal loans and your eligibility, consult the U.S. Department of Education.

University websites will have information about these loans as well, and most universities require you to fill out a FAFSA in order to be considered for their own financial assistance. Be sure to check their web pages for instructions.

Work and the Work-Study Program

Many students work part-time or even full-time while in graduate school.  Off-campus jobs in the restaurant or retail industries offer hours convenient for students taking courses during the day. Many university websites will have job opportunities posted there.

The federal government’s work-study program enables some students to work on or off campus in jobs set aside specifically for them. To be eligible, a student must have demonstrated financial need, a social security number, and U.S. citizenship (or permanent residence, or eligible non-citizen status). To learn about the kinds of work-study jobs available on a campus, consult the university website.


There are a number of internet resources that allow you to search for scholarships based on field of study, identity, academic merit, and other factors. Here is a listing of some useful sources (despite the irritating ads). Note that although many of these have “college” in the title they contain information about scholarships for graduate study as well as undergraduate:


Fellowships for graduate study are different from scholarships in that they often include expectations and benefits beyond that of the awarded funding to attend graduate school.  A student who wins one of the major national fellowships – Beinecke, Gates-Cambridge, Fulbright, Marshall, Mitchell, Rhodes, Truman, and others - enjoys the prestige associated with such recognition; the community of fellow winners; and the special attention of universities to which she is applying.  Application for these fellowships often involves a campus process with internal deadlines at least a full month prior to the foundation’s deadline. Consultation with MHC’s fellowships advisor is recommended and sometimes required a full semester prior to the deadline. Go to "National Fellowships" to learn more about fellowships with a campus process.

A very useful resource for fellowships of all kinds, including those for graduate study, is This resource is easy to use and advertisement-free.

Finally, make an appointment to discuss fellowships with Mount Holyoke’s National Fellowships Advisor, Ryan Lewis.