Looking for some free money for grad school? Let us help you! In this guide to finding—and winning—graduate school scholarships, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about getting those sweet, sweet grants for graduate school. We’ll review the different main types of grad school scholarships, how to look for funding sources you might be eligible for, and close out with some tips on your scholarship selection and application process.
Types of Graduate School Scholarships
There are several types of graduate school scholarships that you can apply for if you’re looking for funding. These range from institutional grad school fellowships offered by your school, to hyper-competitive, national, full-ride scholarships, to smaller, more specific graduate school scholarships with stricter eligibility criteria. We’ll go over everything you need to know about each scholarship type below.
The simplest route to earning scholarships for graduate school is often through the actual graduate institutions that you’re applying for. Programs will have funding set aside to help attract students; most schools offer special graduate school grants and scholarships for particularly promising applicants.
For example, here’s a list of internal need and merit-based funding sources for applicants to Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. As you can see on their website, to be considered for funding sources, you must file a FAFSA. However, additional materials are not necessary.
If you are interested in receiving funding from your school, check if you need to submit additional application materials. Most schools will require the FAFSA, but they may not require anything else. However, some institutional graduate school scholarships require applicants to submit additional essays, recommendations, or other materials.
Some schools will have funding sources they don’t even list online. In this case, you’ll just receive a funding offer when you are accepted if the program has decided to offer you money to entice you into their program!
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Major National/International Full-Ride Scholarships
There are several national or international scholarships for graduate school. You’ve probably heard of some of them, like the Rhodes scholarship, Fulbright grants, and National Science Foundation graduate school fellowships. But there are also others, like the Marshall scholarship, the Endeavor program (for study in Australia), the Mitchell scholarship (for study in Ireland), and the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans (for immigrants and children of immigrants).
Because of the limited number of these types of scholarships available and their very high value, they tend to be ultra-competitive. They typically go to students who have excelled in their undergraduate careers.
If you’re interested in one of these graduate school scholarships, you’ll need to start thinking about them very early on your application process. Applications are often due well before graduate school applications, frequently in October or September! So you need to know that you will be applying for these scholarships well in advance.
If you’re still an undergraduate, your school may actually need to nominate you for the scholarship. In this case, you’ll likely fill out a preliminary application that you send to your school, and they’ll then choose who they would like to nominate based on the preliminary applications they receive.
The nice part of school nomination is that you will usually get some additional resources and help to work on your application if you do get nominated by your school. You’ll most likely get tailored attention and tips for honing your application and doing well on interviews, because it looks great for your undergraduate institution if you get one of these prestigious graduate school fellowships!
There are also smaller, more targeted grad school scholarships that offer supplementary funding to students who meet specific eligibility requirements. These are typically sponsored by nonprofits, corporations, membership organizations, and/or the bequests of individuals. (Side note: Institutional fellowships are also often funded by bequests).
Most of these scholarships are smaller awards, but that doesn’t mean they don’t add up! A couple of $5,000-$10,000 scholarships for grad school can go a long way towards your tuition and fees for the year, especially at a public institution.
There are several different types of outside graduate school scholarships you might be eligible for:
- Diversity scholarships: Lots of scholarships aim to increase the number of diverse professionals in a particular field or in higher education more generally. To that end, there are lots of funds specifically for women, minorities, the disabled, LGBTQ individuals, and so on. Some funds will give scholarships to any diverse applicant, while others are focused on a specific facet of diversity, like a particular ethnicity or gender identity.
- Group membership scholarships: There are also lots of grad school scholarships for members of a specific group. Honor societies, sororities and fraternities, professional associations and religious organizations are just a few of the groups that might offer scholarships! Local community groups also often sponsor scholarships for people from their specific town or community. If you are a member of any professional, academic, social, service, or religious group (or eligible to join one), check and see if they have any graduate school scholarship offerings!
- Discipline-specific: You can also find many grad school scholarships for particular areas of study. There is more funding available for STEM fields than for the arts or the humanities, but there are at least a few scholarships for pretty much every discipline! There’s also a good chunk of grants for graduate school for particular professional degrees—e.g. MBAs, MPHs, MEds, MSWs, etc.
- Miscellaneous: Beyond the three main groups identified above, there are also additional scholarships for grad school with either unusual application procedures or very specific eligibility criteria. One example of this type is the Ayn Rand Institute essay scholarship, which is an essay contest on Atlas Shrugged open to 12th-graders, college students, and graduate students. Another example is the Valeant Dermatology Aspire Higher scholarship program, which awards scholarships to people who have been treated for a dermatological condition with prescription medication.
How to Find Scholarships for Grad School: 3 Methods
There are several methods you might use to look for scholarships for graduate school. I advise deploying several different strategies to cast the widest net possible and find the best grad school scholarships for you.
Graduate Program Websites
One of the first things to do in your quest for scholarships and grants for graduate school is check the websites of the programs that you are applying for. Their financial aid and funding pages will help you figure out what school-specific graduate school scholarships you might be eligible for, and if you need to send additional information to apply for them. This is critical information since most scholarships for grad school do come through institutional funding.
In addition to providing information on institutional funding, these pages can also be a great way to find external graduate school scholarships that aren’t offered by the school. Many grad programs have a page or list of relevant external funding programs that applicants can apply for.
Let’s return to our Columbia School of Public Health example. On their website, in addition to a listing of their internal funding sources, they also provide a list of external funding sources for which applicants may be eligible. A quick scan of this list reveals lots of grad school scholarships relevant to particular areas of public health.
The nice thing about looking at these lists assembled on grad school program websites is that they come pre-selected for relevance. Of course, not all the scholarships will apply to all the students, but you won’t have to scroll through pages of STEM scholarships if you’re looking for funding for your Master’s in Education.
Scholarship Finders and Lists
There are also many websites specifically dedicated to collecting information on a whole bunch of scholarships in one place, either in a database or a list. A lot of scholarship finders are primarily focused on undergraduate funding sources, but the ones that have information on graduate school scholarships can be helpful. These websites allow you to look at tons of scholarships at once. You can sometimes filter the scholarships by various criteria, making the search even easier.
One drawback is that there can be outdated information—sometimes some scholarships listed will have incorrect award amounts, broken links, incorrect due dates, or won’t even be offered anymore! Also, some scholarship search websites require you to register to use them. Personally, I’m leery of these—they ask for your e-mail claiming they’ll send you useful scholarship results, but they’ll often end up sending you spam.
Scholarship finders and compilation lists are a useful resource, just be sure to double-check any information on the official website(s) for the scholarship(s) of interest. Here are some of the most useful grad school scholarship finders and some tips on how to best use them.
Peterson’s is probably the most robust search engine for grad school scholarships out there. There are over 2,300 scholarships in their database for full-time graduate students, and you can filter scholarships by a huge variety of criteria.
The main drawback is that filters overlap. What do I mean by this? If I filter by, say, “Illinois” as my state of residence and “Roman Catholic” as my religion, the database pulls up scholarships for Illinois Roman Catholics (with 0 results) instead of scholarships for Illinois residents and scholarships for Roman Catholics. So you’ll have to run your filtered searches separately to get the widest possible spread of scholarships that you are eligible for.
This website offers a list of 100 scholarships specifically for master’s degrees. It was compiled in 2015, so most of the information is still current. The list is segmented by academic field, making it fairly easy to navigate and find scholarships that actually apply to you.
Scholarships.Com offers a pretty robust list of graduate school scholarships of all kinds. The main disadvantage is that they seem to be listed only in alphabetical order, which isn’t very helpful if you are looking for a specific scholarship type. I recommend doing a control+F search with whatever types of scholarships you think might apply to you to sift through the list more easily.
GoGrad offers extensive lists in several specific graduate school scholarship categories—MBA scholarships, scholarships for women, scholarships for military veterans, and scholarships for LGBTQ individuals. These lists are further subdivided into subcategories. For example, the list of awards and grants for graduate school for veterans is further subdivided into general scholarships for veterans, scholarships for disabled veterans, and scholarships for spouses and dependents of veterans.
This resource obviously isn’t very useful to you if you don’t fall into one of GoGrad’s targeted categories, but it’s very helpful if you do.
If you identify as LGBTQ+, definitely check out this cool database from the Human Rights Campaign. You can filter scholarships by state or look at national scholarships. Graduate school, here we come!
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Mentors and Friends
A good way to get the inside scoop on grad school scholarships is to ask people in the know. Professors you know in your area of interest may be able to direct you to relevant scholarships and grants for graduate school. They often know what’s going in the funding arena for their discipline.
Another thing to do is ask graduate students you know! Grad students in your area of study might know of discipline-specific scholarships. But other grad students who looked for various sources of outside funding may also be able to point you in the right direction. Just be tactful; don’t just out and out demand how your acquaintances are paying for grad school! You can just ask them if they encountered any grad school scholarships you might be eligible for during their application process.
11 Tips for Choosing and Applying to Scholarships
Once you’ve gathered several scholarships you could apply for, how should you best proceed? See our tips below for choosing and applying to scholarships for graduate school.
Choosing Grad School Scholarships
See our six tips for selecting the best assortment of graduate school scholarships for you.
As you might imagine, it’s critical that you are actually eligible for any scholarships that you apply for. So be sure to closely read the eligibility requirements for any scholarship you are interested in. You don’t want to create a whole application just to realize that the scholarship is only for students who are already enrolled in a program!
But beyond that, eligibility can actually guide you towards which scholarships to apply for. The more specific the eligibility requirements for a scholarship, the less competition there’s likely to be! A general STEM scholarship will have tons of applicants. A STEM scholarship for Hispanic and Latinx applicants will have fewer applicants. And a STEM scholarship for Hispanic and Latinx applicants who want to work in the agricultural industry will have even fewer! So if you can find graduate school scholarships with specific eligibility requirements that you quality for, it’s in your best interest to apply for those.
Strategically Choose Need vs. Merit-Based Scholarships
Graduate school scholarships do not all have the same selection criteria. In general, scholarship selection criteria is primarily need-based, primarily merit-based (whether that merit is academic, related to community service, or something else) or a combination of the two. So when you do choose which awards to apply for, consider your finances.
Your financial situation can be assessed by scholarship committees through a number of ways. They often consider your current income and assets, your savings level, and other funding you’ve already received towards your studies. If you have lots of savings, a high-paying job, or other robust funding sources, you probably don’t have a great shot at grad school scholarships focused primarily on financial need. In this case, it makes more sense to focus your efforts on merit-based scholarships for graduate school. For need-and-merit based scholarships, decide on a case-by-case basis. If you don’t have much need but you really fulfill the merit criteria, take a shot!
However, if you can demonstrate financial need, you can (and should!) apply to at least some scholarships with a need-based component. This is especially salient if your academic record is not as strong so you aren’t as compelling a candidate for academic merit scholarships.
Can You Commit to Strings-Attached Funding?
There are a number of funding programs that involve making some kind of post-graduation work commitment in return for the money. For example, the Jewish Community Centers of North America Graduate Scholarship Program offers $10,000/yr for up to two years to graduate students who can commit to work at a JCC for at least two years post-graduation. Another example is the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship. This program funds tuition and gives a stipend to train individuals with STEM backgrounds as secondary-school teachers. In return, fellows commit to teach in a high-need school district in a designated area for at least three years.
With these types of funding arrangements, you usually have to pay the money back if you can’t fulfill the professional commitment (barring extreme extenuating circumstances). So don’t apply if you aren’t confident that you can hold up your end of the bargain!
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
If you can, it’s best to apply for a variety of graduate school scholarships. Instead of only applying to only one super-competitive, high-funding grant or fellowship program and nothing else, choose a portfolio of scholarships with a variety of eligibility and selection criteria, award amounts, and effort levels. Filing a healthy variety of scholarship applications increases the chances that you’ll net some level of funding from the process. It’s less risky than playing an all-or-nothing game by filling out a single application for something like a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship.
Trying for some major awards is great. But don’t underestimate the value of applying to smaller, less competitive scholarships that you’re very qualified for. Think of it this way: a couple of $5,000 awards gets you a lot further than one rejected application for $90,000.
So choose some with quick and easy applications for smaller amounts, some more general scholarships, some with specific eligibility criteria, and some very competitive scholarships worth lots of cash! This will cover all your bases and increase your chances of being a winner in the grad school scholarships game.
Reuse and Recycle When Possible
It’s a great idea to apply to scholarships for which you can reasonably re-use some of your graduate school application materials (or other scholarship materials). Don’t force it—if the application wants an essay about community service, don’t try to re-use one about your academic accomplishments! But when you can recycle some recommendations and essays for multiple scholarships with just a few tweaks, you’ll get a higher potential for payoff with just a little extra work.
Make Sure Deadlines Work for You
While it’s not the most critical part of selecting scholarships, do consider deadlines. Especially consider how your scholarship deadlines match up with your grad school application deadlines. You want to make sure you have enough time to complete everything without scrambling or doing a half-baked job because you’re pressed for time. Try to select applications for scholarships and grants for graduate school that you can complete either before grad school application season is in full swing or after most of your grad school applications are complete.
Applying for Graduate School Scholarships
Once you’ve decided which scholarships to apply for, the following five tips will help your graduate school scholarship application process go smoothly.
Make a Chart to Keep Track of Everything
If you’ve read my other articles, you may be aware that I am a strong proponent of making charts to keep track of tasks. This is also a great strategy for scholarship applications! You can list each of your scholarships on one side of the chart, and all of the requirements on the other. Include goal dates and the current status of each task. Referring to your chart often will help you know what you need to get done on a week-by-week basis and keep you on track to complete all the different pieces of the scholarship without scrambling!
Reach Out to People Who’ve Won Before
If you can, it’s a great idea to talk to people who’ve previously won the scholarships you’re interested in. They can give you tips on how they structured the various parts of their application, what they emphasized, and anything else you want to know!
Of course, if you personally know someone who won, this is pretty easy to accomplish. Otherwise, you may also be able to find someone who won through mutual friends and acquaintances. Lots of scholarships post lists of past winners. Try to leverage any common connections you might have. For example, if any former recipients went to your undergraduate institution or are from your hometown, you might have a mutual acquaintance. At the very least, they may be more receptive to cold contact.
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Tailor Your Applications to the Selection Criteria
The point of a scholarship application is, in general, to show how great you are. However, there are usually specific things about your greatness that scholarship committees want to know. To that end, most scholarship websites will give you at least some guidance as to what the scholarship selection criteria are.
When you compile your application materials, keep those selection criteria in mind! I used to copy and paste the criteria at the top of my document when I was writing scholarship application essays to help me make sure that I was closely addressing what the committee was looking for. Making sure that you’re demonstrating the specific qualities a particular scholarship is looking for in all parts of your application definitely increases your chances of success.
Enlist a Second Set of Eyes
Get someone else (or several someones) to look at your application materials before you submit them. Frankly, this is good practice whenever you’re working on something important. A pair of fresh eyes will see errors or points of confusion that you can’t. You might even have the selection criteria at hand so they can give you more tailored feedback as to how you might improve your application.
Give Yourself Some Buffer
Don’t leave everything for the last minute! Request recommendations and transcripts early. Additionally, try to have your application materials submitted in advance of the deadline in case there are technical or other issues.
This is especially true when you need to mail in an application packet. (It’s becoming rarer, but it still happens!) The last thing you want is for your application to be lost in the mail!
Graduate School Scholarships: Key Takeaways
In this article we went over everything you need to know to find and win graduate school scholarships.
There are three main types of scholarships:
- Major national and international scholarships: These hyper-competitive full-ride scholarship contests will typically cover the full cost of graduate school. These usually include living expenses.
- School-sponsored scholarships: Graduate schools offer their own scholarships to particularly promising applicants to try to entice them into the program.
- Targeted scholarships: Other scholarships are often run by nonprofit funds, membership institutions, or corporations for the purpose of providing support to a specific subset of people pursuing advanced study. These awards are often smaller, but can add up!
Here are three great ways to find grad school scholarships you might be eligible for:
- Graduate program websites often have compilations of outside sources of funding that applicants might be eligible for.
- Scholarship finders and lists compile lots of potential scholarships in one place.
- Professors and acquaintances (especially grad students you know) may also have scholarship recommendations for you.
Finally, here are our main tips for choosing graduate school scholarships:
- Consider your eligibility
- Think about your financial situation when you select need vs. merit-based scholarships
- Figure out if you can meet the conditions of strings-attached funding
- Apply to a variety of scholarships
- Re-use components of other applications when possible (and reasonable!)
- Make sure your deadline schedule works for you
And applying for them:
- Make a chart to track all the tasks and components of your applications.
- Reach out to people who’ve won before
- Tailor your application to the scholarship selection criteria
- Get someone else to look at your applications
- Leave some buffer time
See our list of 47 graduate school scholarships you can apply for!
To increase your chance of getting school scholarships, work on improving your GRE score! See our guide to making a study plan, 34 critical tips and strategies for GRE success, and our compilation of the very best GRE practice questions for every section!
Want more information about grad school? See our overview and decision guide for master’s degrees and PhDs.