By Stepanie Small, December 2013
If you are considering returning to school to earn a graduate degree you probably have some concerns about how you will pay for your continuing education. While there are some federal aid options available through the Department of Education for continuing students who qualify, it is often the case that federal aid alone is not enough to cover the full cost of tuition and living expenses. This is why graduate students should know where they can look for additional sources of funding. Additional sources of funding may include; federal agencies, non-profit organizations, state level scholarships, loans or grants, graduate assistantships, and fellowships.
Although there are fewer options, the federal government does offers some loan options, grants, and work-study programs, to qualified students, that may help pay for continuing studies in a Master’s Degree or a Doctoral Program. There may also be extensive tax benefits available for continuing education through the Internal Revenue Service.
Non-profit organizations like AmeriCorps may offer Education Awards for those students who have worked in one of their programs. There might also be other scholarships and loan repayment programs available through the Indian Health Service, National Health Service Corps, and National Park Service. Many federal government agencies has some type of grant or scholarship to offer.
At the state level, there may be additional scholarships, loans and grants available to qualified students. Many of these programs are tied to a state’s economy. For example, coastal states such as Maine and Florida might offer opportunities for qualified students who are willing to work in the state’s game and fishing industries after graduation. In addition, in order to attract and keep teachers, many states now offer full scholarships in exchange for teaching for a year or two years for every year the student who received the scholarship attended school.
The school you want to attend might actually be the best source of additional subsidies to help you pay for your graduate education in the form of work-study programs, scholarships, and assistantships. Assistantship programs are often used by colleges and universities to ensure a steady (and cheap) source of teaching assistants and researchers in exchange for free or greatly reduced graduate classes. This also allows university senior instructors and tenured professors to concentrate on publishing studies and other academic works which attract further funding from alumni, private individuals and public corporations.
Fellowships are the most common form of scholarships available for graduate students. These come in the form of cash donations through alumni associations and other organizations that are closely tied to the university and are used for tuition, books and housing expenses. Many fellowships are tied to specific areas of study to promote further research in those areas. Both of these programs allow for universities to aggressively recruit and keep their best students working for them rather than searching for employment opportunities in the public sector.
Next, go to who you think may be the last person you’d want to ask for tuition assistance; your boss. Corporations in the U.S. may offer scholarships, internships, or tuition reimbursement programs to support their employees’ continuing education. These programs may cover everything from tuition to housing and food. Most companies usually require a term of employment based on the cost of the education and for how many years the student was out of the workforce while still on the company’s payroll. For those students who take classes specifically related to their work such they may be eligible for a tax benefit up to $5,250 in tuition costs. If your private employer doesn't want to contribute to your post grad education, you might want to consider a federal work-study job.
Private organizations also provide assistance based on that group’s criteria. Faith based groups such as the Liberty Foundation provides scholarships for qualified students who wish to pursue advanced degrees in religious studies. The Truman Scholarship Foundation provides around sixty applicants every year up to $30,000 to pursue education that will lead them into public service careers.
The options for funding your Doctorate or Master's Degree are varied and may be limited by what career or discipline you may wish to pursue. It’s important to keep in mind that federal loans may offer flexible repayment terms and other benefits, such as student loan forgiveness. So when it’s an option always choose federal before taking out private student loans.
About the Author: Stephanie Small has a B.A. in English from Yale University and an MSW from the Smith College School of Social Work