Graduate Funding FAQs

Don’t be intimidated about the financial aid process. We’ll guide you through it and answer your questions. 


 

Graduate Funding FAQs

What is the difference between fellowships, scholarships, and grants?

A grant is a sum that an organization or government body awards for  a specific purpose.  

Scholarships and fellowships are types of grants, often given to students   for research, training, professional development, or other educational purposes, such as tuition, books, and fees.  

  • Scholarships are often intended to cover  tuition or other enrollment-related costs. 

  • Fellowships frequently describe awards that support advanced research or professional development programs.  

 When applying for any kind of grant, read the rules to determine your eligibility and how you can use the funds. 

Could I qualify for a fellowship?

Yes, if you’re thinking about graduate school, you should be thinking about fellowships. You might qualify for more than one and can apply for them throughout your studies.  

Some fellowships are intended to help you start your studies, while others are available to help you complete your degree. Fellowship types include support to:

  • Complete a doctoral dissertation. 
  • Fund  independent research in the lab, in the field, or in an archive.    
  • Take language training. 
  • Study across the globe.
  • Take advantage of professional development opportunities such as internships.
  • Attend a conference or a workshop.
  • Study a library or archival collection. 

In addition, you might belong to a group that an organization wants to encourage or provide with opportunities. Awards may encourage students to: 

  • Enter a specific academic field or line of work 
  • Develop skills they might have limited opportunities to develop. 
  • Boost the participation of women, minorities, or other under-represented groups in specific academic and professional fields. 
  • Create opportunities for international or inter-cultural dialogue. 
  • Attract scholars to work in a specific library, museum, or archival collection. 
  • Provide emerging scholars with the time and money to complete important research. 

 

Is there a fellowship calendar or application schedule?

Most fellowship competitions run parallel to the academic calendar. They’re announced in late summer or early autumn. 

Deadlines will be set for the autumn or winter, typically from October to February. Awards will be announced in the spring, usually from March to May, though some decisions come at different times.  

Funds typically are distributed during the summer or near the beginning of the subsequent fall semester. You’ll submit your application 6 to 12 months before you get your funding.   

There are exceptions: Fulbright applications are due in early/mid September, meaning you’ll need to start the application process the preceding spring/summer. 

Some awards (such as National Science Foundation doctoral research grants) run two or more cycles per year, with multiple deadlines. 

Smaller, more narrowly targeted competitions run on different and shorter timetables — for example, with spring / summer or rolling deadlines. 

Do fellowships consider financial need?

At the graduate level, financial need is seldom a consideration. 

External scholarships — in the traditional sense of monetary awards designed to help students  meet tuition or living expenses — are uncommon. Programs also often set limitations on how funds may be used and/or how the award will be paid out. 

Most graduate-level awards are made on the basis of academic merit, qualifications, future promise, and how well the applicant’s profile / proposal fits with the aims of the fellowship program.  

Some competitions require the applicant to submit a budget detailing how the requested funds will be used, while others offer a fixed sum to awardees.  

Are there minimum requirements for GPA or GRE scores?

At the graduate level, most competitions do not.

However, you might need to address or provide context for mediocre scores/GPA or isolated low grades in the parts of the application that allow you to paint a fuller picture (essays and letters of recommendation.)

In general, an isolated low grade in an undergraduate course unrelated to your current field of study  is unlikely to affect your application. 

How can I tell if I have a real chance at a competitive award?

Fellowship programs are intensely competitive, and many highly qualified candidates will be turned down.  

But instead of dwelling on statistics, think about “fit,” which is an important factor with graduate fellowships. 

  • Carefully read the program’s website and other published materials.
  • Look over the list of past recipients. 
  • Work closely with your mentors and the Director of Graduate Fellowships and ask them for candid feedback on whether an award seems like a good fit for you. 

Don’t give up.  A less-than-superstar student who is an excellent fit and can make a compelling case for him/herself can be a strong contender for an award.  

 Put aside the attitude that if the chance of winning is small, it’s not a good use of your time. The fellowship application process is an educational opportunity in itself. You’ll gain valuable academic and professional skills, learn to define your goals, and enhance your critical thinking skills.

Even if you don’t win an award, the skills you cultivate will serve you in your career. 

What should I do if I need a fellowship or scholarship to continue in my program?

Plan far ahead (at least one year, preferably two) and always have a backup plan. 

Fellowships are not something you can count on to fund your education.  Programs are competitive, and funding is limited; even highly qualified candidates might not get one.   

In addition, many fellowships provide only partial funding or set limits on how funding can be used (to pay for research expenses or special training, for example).  

You should approach graduate fellowships as a of professional opportunity instead of a financial plan. 

Can part-time or non-traditional students apply for fellowships?

In most cases you will be eligible to apply, but if you are offered an award you may be required to become a full-time student during the tenure of fellowship as a condition of acceptance.

Some awards also stipulate that you can't work during the tenure of the award.

However, rules vary widely from one award to the next and depend on the amount and purpose of the award.

Always read eligibility requirements and terms of acceptance carefully.

How can I know if I qualify for a diversity or under-represented minority award?

Definitions and eligibility requirements  vary considerably from one award to the next.  

Some awards target very specific groups, while others are open to a wide range of applicants.  

Some competitions consider the field of study, so women may count as an under-represented group in, for example, Astrophysics, but not in Psychology. A few competitions support men in female-dominated fields such as Nursing.  

Traditionally, such awards have sought to increase the participation of African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Native American (including native Alaskan), and Pacific Islander candidates, and members of these groups will find the largest number of targeted opportunities. However, many awards are also open to those of Asian or Middle Eastern descent, persons with disabilities, or members of the LGBTQ community.  

Some competitions also include people who are the first in their family to attend college.  

The Ford Foundation has a diversity fellowship program that considers candidates whose research or teaching focuses on diversity issues regardless of the applicant’s background.  

Always read eligibility requirements carefully. If you’re unsure whether you qualify, contact the foundation or agency to inquire. 

Are some fellowship programs limited to U.S. citizens and permanent residents?

Yes, because many programs are supported either wholly or in part by U.S. taxpayer funds, so can only be used to support U.S. citizens (and some permanent residents.) 

Some fellowship programs, such as Fulbright, send students to other nations to encourage citizen-diplomacy. Others are designed to groom awardees for future careers in U.S. government service or careers related to national security. These programs are generally limited to U.S. citizens.  

However, many fellowships are open to permanent residents, and a few are open to international students. 

Do some fellowships accept international applicants?

Some competitions, especially at the advanced doctoral level, accept international applicants. See the Fellowship Opportunities page for a downloadable list of fellowship opportunities for international students and other non-U.S. citizens. 

How do I apply for a Fulbright?

You’ll need to carefully and thoroughly research the types of grants and destinations available in the Fulbright Student Program. Requirements differ from one country to the next, so studying details is crucial.   

Attend an information session in the spring or summer, and/or contact the director of Graduate Fellowships to discuss your plans. 

Currently enrolled students must apply through the Office of Graduate Fellowships (or, for undergraduates, the Office of Postgraduate Scholarships and Fellowships in the Honors College) and complete an on-campus review process before submit applications to the national Fulbright competition. 

Keep in mind that Fulbright fellowships aren’t your only option to study, conduct research, or work in another country. 

The Boren Fellowship, SSRC-IDRF, Critical Language Scholarship, and the CAORC Multi-Country Fellowship are equally prestigious and might be a better fit.

There are also country- or region-specific fellowships (such as DAAD and Bosch for Germany, AMSCAN for Scandinavia, or IREX for Eastern Europe and Eurasia).  

Are there some Fulbright fellowships that are less competitive than others?

Western and central European nations are intensely competitive, as are popular international destinations such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, China, Japan, Morocco, Jordan, and Thailand.  

Non-traditional destinations in the developing world receive fewer applications, particularly if the citizens speak a non-Western language.  

 However, it is generally unproductive to try to “game the system” by applying to a fellowship in a country you think will be easier to win. Such applications are usually obvious to selection committees. 

Successful applicants make a compelling case for the selected country, presenting this choice as a logical extension of their interests and motivations.  

The application should also demonstrate that you’re familiar with the Fulbright requirements and preferences specific to that country,  and are prepared to work effectively there. 

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Graduate Education and reach out to your program's department, school, or college.