Finding the Best Grad School Scholarship Options

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There’s no way around it, graduate school is expensive. Tuition alone carries a hefty price tag, but there is also the cost of books, housing, and potential relocation, travel, and commute costs to consider. The good news is there are many grad school scholarship options that can help. We take a look at some of the different types of scholarships that may be available to you as well as some of the best ways to find them. 

Types of scholarships

Scholarships for graduate school may be offered by universities, professional organizations, states, private companies, and more.

Need-based scholarships 

These scholarships are based on student’s and/or family’s financial situation. Eligibility requirements may vary based on the kind of scholarship. 

Merit scholarships

Based on achievement, merit scholarships are awarded in areas like academics, artistry, and athletics. Some merit scholarships take financial need into consideration but their primary objective is to reward talent. 


These awards often relate to your field and are typically need-based. Grants are like scholarships in in that you don’t have to pay them back.  


Fellowships for graduate students usually fund short-term opportunities to study or conduct research in a specific field. They are typically awarded for academic excellence and can include an internship, service commitment or offer a stipend. Fellowship opportunities can be found in most graduate fields.

Scholarships are awarded for different criteria. As you explore opportunities, here are a couple ways to consider your search:  

  • Field: Scholarships based on field, particularly for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) or other fields of study where your expertise may be in high demand. Research councils in most disciplines also provide grants for research-based study. 
  • Region: There are a lot of national scholarships with name recognition but it can be easy to miss scholarships offered by your own state or region. For the best information, search or contact your state’s department of education. 
  • Demographic: Scholarships are available for specific populations to promote study and support students with diverse racial, religious, and/or ethnic backgrounds and orientations. These include but are not limited to scholarships available to foster children, first-generation college students, and non-traditional students who are cognitively and physically disabled.
  • Service: If you are a current or former service program (AmeriCorps, Peace Corps) member, you may be eligible for an educational award through your program, and/or scholarships through your school. There are also some scholarships available for those with military service for graduate school. 

Where to look for scholarships

Within your own network

Consider making connections through informational interviews as well building relationships with your colleagues and supervisors. In addition to potential funding through employer tuition assistance, those you work alongside may have connections to funding opportunities in the sector. Alongside this more formalized networking, make sure to tap into your connections through family and friends. Those who know you best can be a helpful extra set of ears and eyes for opportunities. They may also know of scholarships beyond those available in your specific field. 

At your undergraduate institution and your prospective grad schools

Tap into the resources available to you through both your undergraduate and prospective graduate institutions. Career centers, professors, department chairs, and academic advisors are all great sources of information.

Professional associations 

Professional associations can also be found across most disciplines and may provide scholarships and grants for their members to advance their education or to develop professionally. Use your network to help you make connections and pursue opportunities at these associations. It may also make sense to sign up to receive newsletters or publications from these associations as they may advertise scholarships and funding opportunities in the field. 

In your local community

Institutions, organizations, and businesses usually offer scholarships to assist students in their communities. Civic clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions are great local sponsors. 

Your library

The Foundation Center has established a network of Cooperating Collections in libraries and community resource centers across the country that provide free information on grants and how to apply for them, and also offer free educational materials to help you in your search for funding.

How to apply for scholarships 

Scholarship selection committees receive many applications so, like writing your graduate school application materials, it’s important to be clear and concise. When sharing about yourself, make sure to talk about your unique contributions and achievements and how graduate school and their scholarship will support you and your long term goals. 

Be sure to also communicate your achievements in relation to the priorities and goals of the specific scholarship opportunity you’re pursuing. For example, a scholarship sponsored by your state might be most interested in how you would take your learnings from a law degree and support civic involvement engagement in your local community. Or a professional association wants to support the next generation of legal scholars and may be most interested in how your studies will support the field and contribute to the values of the association. 

Finding and applying for scholarships can be time consuming so it’s important to and begin your the process as early as you can. Make sure to allow for time to request additional application materials like official transcripts or letters of recommendation if required and keep copies of your application for your records.


Interested in learning more about what graduate school can do for you? The Idealist Grad School Fairs are free and open to all students who are interested in a social-impact career. Learn more about Idealist Grad School Fairs taking place this fall and start planning your future today.