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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

Where to Find Free Money for Grad School

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When I was considering graduate school programs in the humanities, my undergrad advisor was adamant that the only programs worth attending were those that provided funding options so I wouldn’t be paying tuition out of pocket.

And though I ultimately decided to put my grad school plans on hold, I still think he had a point: If you’re already in debt with undergrad loans, paying the full price of grad school is only going to be financially worth it if you’re headed down one of the most lucrative career paths.

So, how do you avoid footing the bill yourself? Check out these resources.

Your School

One of the best places to start, of course, is your school or department. Ask your program for listings of internal grant and scholarship opportunities that new students are eligible for. To maximize your chances for free financial aid, apply to your program early—that way you’ll be on your department’s radar as opportunities arise.

Already got your financial aid package back and it’s not enough? Talk to both your department and the financial aid office—many times, they’ll be willing to work with you, especially if finances are what’s standing in the way of you attending. And if you’ve received a better offer from your second choice school, bring it up! Your first choice may be willing to match it.

You may also be able to work for your department in a research or teaching assistantship. These programs typically cover a portion of tuition and provide a stipend—plus, you’ll gain valuable experience. Connect with faculty members whose work aligns with your topic of study and ask about opportunities.

Other Organizations

Whether or not you receive financial assistance from your school, check out external funding—many public and private organizations provide fellowships, grants, and scholarships as well. Be sure to check out organizations related to your discipline, such as the Social Science Research Council and AAAS (for students in the sciences).

Some schools include outside fellowship and grant opportunities on their websites as well. Even if you’re not attending UCLA or Cornell, take a look at their comprehensive databases of outside funding to see what you may be eligible for.

Beyond browsing each organization’s website, you can find opportunities by following their social media platforms and signing up for their email newsletters. Connect with relevant organizations (including ones for alumni of undergrad programs and groups you were involved in) through LinkedIn groups, Twitter, and Facebook to keep up with the latest availability.

Your Employer

Many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs, some going so far as to foot the entire bill. As you’re making plans for your graduate study, consider how your degree could benefit your company, and look into what’s offered at your workplace. Typically, your coursework must be relevant to your job to be covered, and you’ll have to agree to remain with the company for a certain amount of time to qualify for reimbursement—especially if you’re headed to school full-time.

Even if your employer doesn’t offer tuition reimbursement, you may be able to negotiate a more flexible work schedule so that you can work and go to school at the same time. Though you’re footing the bill for your program, you’ll still have income coming in.

Tax Credits

Don’t forget that you can take advantage of tax credits for educational expenses—many grad students leave money on the table when filing their taxes! While many tax benefits only apply to undergrad studies, the Lifetime Learning Credit allows you to qualify for a credit of up to $2,000 in tax relief for certain educational expenses. Learn more from the IRS website.