Grit In Practice: How to Finance Graduate Education

If you’re deciding to go back to school, one of the largest obstacles may be figuring out how you’re going to finance graduate education. There are countless resources out there to assist you in finding thousands of dollars in scholarships, grants, and loans. You just have to know where to look.

Find Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships are an ideal way to help finance graduate education because they do not require any form of repayment. Thousands of them are available every year, offered by universities, companies, nonprofits, social or professional groups, individuals, and more. Based on funding in the area, specific major programs often offer scholarships. Many scholarships are available for those in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, and healthcare.

State or federal aid given to the university provide grants. Like scholarships, grants do not require repayment, but are usually need-based rather than merit-based. Research grants are available for a variety of fields, from technology to social science. They provide a stipend in exchange for your participation in new or existing research.


For Cybersecurity M.P.S. students, two specialized federal scholarship programs are available: The DoD Information Assurance Scholarship Program (IASP) and Federal Cybercorps Scholarship for Service (SFS). Both cover full tuition, annual stipends, and other educational costs in exchange for working in a cybersecurity capacity for the US government upon graduation. 

man's hands writing check

Obtain a Fellowship or Assistantship

Fellowships provide financial compensation, sometimes in exchange for part-time or full-time work. They can last from a few months up to the years it takes to complete your degree. Fellowships also provide industry experience, making them an ideal way to finance graduate education. Assistantships, however, are located on campus and are more like a work-study program. They provide tuition assistance in the form of a salary and are not considered a financial aid award, like fellowships are.

When looking for a fellow position, make sure you choose one that aligns with your career goals or an area that you are interested in studying. In most cases, you will need to submit some sort of portfolio, recommendations, essay, and personal statement. Finally, presenting a relevant, well-pitched project proposal will impress the committee.

Choose the Right Institution and Program

Before committing to your school and program, consider if it is the wisest option financially. The tuition at a private institution can cost more than double the tuition at a public or state school. You could also choose a shorter program, such as a graduate certificate or master’s degree, instead of PhD in order to save. Also, apply early to your program and for scholarships and other aid. This will give you the chance to get the best offers.

graduation ceremony

Make Informed Loan Choices

Understand the conditions of the loans you are taking on. Government loans, including Federal Perkins, Stafford, and Plus, usually have lower interest rates than private loans from a credit union or bank. Unsubsidized loans allow interest to build up while you’re still in school, but the interest on subsidized loans is paid by the government during your time in school. When accepting a loan, you can opt to accept the entire amount or partial amount. Consider accepting only what you need to live within your means and pay your tuition. This way, you will save on principal and interest when it comes time to repay the loan.

You may have the option to defer your undergraduate loans while pursuing your graduate degree. If you are enrolled at least half time in graduate school or enrolled in an approved fellowship program, you could be eligible.

Look Into Payment Plans

A payment plan allows you to finance your graduate education at a more manageable monthly rate, instead of paying all of the costs up front. Payment plans run on a semester basis. You can enroll online. And, automatic payments are available.

Don’t Forget to Apply for Financial Aid!

While Federal Student Aid applies to undergraduate degrees, it can also help you finance graduate education. Apply for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out which aid and grants you are eligible for. Most need based aid does not require repayment.

calculator, checkbook and money

Penny-Pinching Hacks

Saving a few dollars on the little things can really add up. Take full advantage of your student status and attend free university events. Also, be sure to use student discounts when shopping. Movie theaters, bookstores, and some clothing stores and restaurants give student discounts. On-campus activities often provide a free meal or merchandise. Also, opt for used books and search online student groups to buy books from your peers for an even lower rate. Finally, there are substantial tax credits and deductions for those enrolled in college courses.

Explore these resources for more information on aid, grants, and scholarships:

The Graduate School at UMBC Financial Aid and Scholarships

Veteran Benefits – Your GI bill education benefits could be combined with other financial aid.


ProFellow – Professional and academic fellowship programs

Peterson’s – Scholarships, grants, fellowships, forgivable loans, and prizes


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