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How to Find Free Money for Graduate School


Mar. 21, 2021 US News and World Report

That’s much lower compared with undergraduate students. More than 80% of first-time, full-time undergraduates at private, nonprofit four-year institutions received institutional grants, and about 50% of those students at public colleges received institutional grants, according to NCES data from the 2017-2018 academic year. Additionally, 33% to 38% of undergraduates at those schools received federal grants and 25% to 38% received state or local grants.

While scholarships for undergraduates are common, many students are unaware grants and scholarships exist at the graduate level. These forms of financial aid typically don’t cover a graduate student’s entire cost of attendance – a Sallie Mae study conducted in 2017, How America Pays for Graduate School, found that grants, scholarships, fellowships or tuition waivers typically pay for about 15% of grad school costs – but every dollar helps. 

Sallie Mae’s online tool, Graduate School Scholarship Search, allows current and prospective graduate and professional students to hunt for private scholarships and boasts more than 950,000 scholarships worth up to $1 billion.

“There’s a lack of understanding that there’s availability of scholarships for grad school,” says Rick Castellano, a Sallie Mae spokesman. “With grad students, they don’t know where to look. When we talk to them, they’ll just say they Google searched.”

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, Castellano says students should feel more empowered to shop around and drive the conversation this year. “Don’t be afraid to negotiate for more aid,” he wrote in an email.

“The conversation is a two-way street; call your financial aid office, explain your situation (especially if it’s changed in light of COVID-19), and be open about what financial resources it would take for you to attend. You might be surprised by how willing a school is to work with you,” he says.

For prospective graduate and professional students, here are a few approaches to consider when tracking down free money to pay for an advanced degree.

Use Scholarship Search Engines

While Sallie Mae’s Graduate School Scholarship Search lists scholarships and fellowships available at the graduate level, other scholarship search engines list private scholarships for grad students in addition to awards available for undergraduate college students. A few of these scholarship databases include UnigoFastweb and the U.S. News Scholarship Finder.

GoGrad is another online resource that lists niche scholarships for prospective and current grad students. 

While graduate scholarships tend to be more modest compared with those offered to undergraduates, experts say a $1,000 award can still help reduce living costs and student loan borrowing.

Consider Free Graduate Schools

Students interested in attending graduate school may want to consider tuition-free programs.

For instance, New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine made headlines in 2018 when it announced a first-of-its-kind, full-tuition scholarship to all students. The scholarship amounted to $57,476 for the 2020-2021 academic year, and it is awarded to every student regardless of merit or financial need. It does not cover other fees and expenses. 

In 2019, the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine announced it would provide around half of its new students with free tuition, which amounted to $68,480 in 2020–2021. 

Identify Scholarships Available Via Professional Organizations

Students can apply for graduate scholarships by finding and joining professional associations in their chosen field of study. For instance, undergraduate and graduate members of the National Black MBA Association Inc. can apply for an award of up to $5,000. 

As another example, the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation awards graduate scholarships of at least $5,000 to a varying number of dental students annually.

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