Some Fundamentals of Funding

There is no shortage of information regarding graduate school funding.  There are plenty of websites completely devoted to educating people on how to fund their graduate education.   Most of them will tell you to get creative in your search, to be thorough, and point you in the direction of some common sources of funding.

If you’re interested enough in graduate school to be reading this blog post, chances are you’ve already spent some time determining how you’ll pay for school.  Rather than tell you about funding sources you’ve already found, here’s some other things to take into consideration when looking at funding options.

  1. It’s important to know how funding works and how it is awarded.  Funding types (teaching assistant, research assistant, graduate assistant, fellowship, etc) vary from institution to institution as well as by type of program.  Universities also use different terminology, so it can be difficult to compare one program to the next.  For example, at some institutions, teaching assistantships are reserved for those in a doctoral program, while administrative or student life assistantships are reserved for students in higher education administration programs.  At other places, anyone can apply for any form of funding as long as he or she meets the criteria.  If you can’t readily find this information on a university’s website, be sure to ask someone in your potential department how funding works and where to find university-specific funding information.
  2. Think of a funding source as part of your pathway to future employment.  For most of us, funding is in fact a job, so it’s not too much of a stretch to think in this way.  But more importantly, take into consideration how you plan to put your hard-earned graduate degree to use.  Do you hope to be a professor at a teaching university? Or are you more research-driven?  Consider how your funding source will prepare you for future employment.
  3. Many types of funding come with an expiration date.  For instance, some fellowships are for 1 year, while many departmental teaching assistantships are renewable for 4 or 5 years.  Keep this in mind when weighing your decisions of which department is right for you.
  4. Once you’ve secured your funding source and are enrolled in school, don’t forget that although your funding is a job, your first priority is your own academic work.  It is very easy to get distracted with your job and prioritize it over your academic success.
  5. If you’re overwhelmed by the problem of funding, take a deep breath and contact someone at the universities you’re interested in.  Don’t be afraid to say you are confused by the system; it is confusing!  Departmental assistants are a great place to start; they seem to know everything.  They can usually point you in the direction of someone who knows how to help you.  Universities have offices staffed with great, knowledgeable people who can help—and want—you to succeed.  Make sure you take advantage of the resources they provide.