Securing Graduate School Funding.

A few years ago, I gave a short presentation on securing funding to IU’s Hudson and Holland Scholars who were intending to pursue graduate studies. At a quick glance I thought it would be applicable here, see below for a summary and maybe something you read will catch your attention.

What is your eligibility? Experience (previous work, research, or internships); merit; retention of underrepresented population; duration of funding (entire time frame or renewable).

Internal Funding – Departmental & Institutional Often offered with acceptance letter and largely based on merit. Examples may include: fellowships in the form of merit-diversity-underrepresented groups; assistantships such as research-instruction-teaching assistant; work-study, similar as an undergraduate; grants that may potentially based on merit; the FAFSA based on financial need.

External Funding – Multiple Options Outside of your department; similar as opportunities as mentioned above, but may or may not be closely related to your field or area of study.

Initial search for External Funding – Institution’s Graduate School; position openings within another department; supporting organizations in your field; national organizations within your city or community that you reside in.

Strategize – Submit simultaneous applications, when you apply to the graduate program, also apply to potential funding sources with the idea in mind that you anticipate admittance into the graduate program; ask about opportunities for funding.

Admitted to program and offered internal funding – Q: Will I be supported each year or is there a time limit? Stipend, tuition remission (reduction), other (insurance).

Admitted to program, yet no internal funding offered – Consider the rankings and prestige of program that you are admitted to; not obtaining an offer initially does not suggest you will not get one at a later time in your program (half way through your first year or in your second year)

You’ll have to ask yourself, what challenges may arise if you do not obtain internal funding initially? Attaining funding may require concentrated organization – Keep in contact with faculty and departments; forward your resume/vitae and coverletter to prospective openings; make a list all possible opportunities; check *eligibility & *deadlines; applications may suggest applying in the spring for upcoming academic year; applications may open in the fall and a response may be given in the spring for summer or subsequent year; create a folder for each application.

Understand all of your options – Here are some institutions/programs to help you start your search Graduate office and your department; research centers specific to field and related fields; Trio programs (McNair); Fulbright programs; Ford Foundation; Spencer Foundation, Gates Foundation; William T. Grant Foundation; National Institute of Mental Health; National Institute of Health;; National Science Foundation; Hispanic College Fund; Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Office of Minority Health; *review other’s CVs; join professional organizations to access listserves/information.



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.

Living on a budget

….is part of life in graduate school.  I haven’t really had an issue living within my means, as I’ve always been fairly conscious of my money and where it was going.  However, there are a few things that are important to consider in terms of budgeting for graduate school.

Many programs at IU offer a part-time teaching contract with your acceptance to their department.  To my knowledge, the packages range in amount and contract years–I think the average is something like 4-5 years of funding.

There are many places on campus where students can research further options for funding, including student loans, scholarships, fellowships, and work-study.

For nearly everyone arriving at graduate school from a paying job, of course, you’ll be taking a major pay cut. But that’s pretty obvious from the start…

In short, if you are smart about managing your money while you’re in graduate school, it’s entirely feasible to get through your program while staying comfortable and happy. It just means thinking carefully about the expenses you know you’ll have to shell out for, and the ones that you know are non-essential, even if you don’t want to admit it.

At IU, funding is guaranteed for PhD students in Chemistry, Biology, and Biochemistry for 5 years

PhD students in the Chemistry, Biology, and Biochemistry programs are guaranteed to have funding for at least five years in the form of Research Assistantship (RA), Teaching Assistantship (we call it AI-ship here, AI for Associate Instructor), or Fellowship. All applicants are automatically entered for any eligible University/Departmental fellowships during the application process. What all these mean is that if you get an offer from these programs at IU, you receive tuition remission, health insurance, and a good stipend for at least five years.

For Master’s students, teaching positions are always available too as we have lots of undergraduate level classes that need AI’s majoring in these fields.

Now if you are brining your own external funds, that would be even better because you wouldn’t worry about having to teach at some point during your graduate career and would be able to focus full-time on your research. One to two semesters of teaching experience, however, is part of the requirements for your degree.

Graduate Assistantship and Engagement

Now is the time to begin thinking about how you plan to pay for your graduate degree. I remember applying for assistantships after receiving my acceptance letter at this point two years ago. I was offered an assistantship with the Center for Postsecondary Research. As a project associate in the research center, I work primarily with the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). NSSE celebrated its 10th annual administration in 2009 and continues to be used by colleges and universities as an assessment tool. Over 1400 colleges and universities have participated in NSSE since its inception. My job is to primarily work with approximately 200 institutions participating in the administration. As a higher education and student affairs doctoral student, my goal is to assist colleges and universities in improving the student experience. In this position, I have the unique opportunity to work with several college and university administrators to help inform programs and practices that foster student engagement. I was fortunate to have an assistantship that aligns with my research agenda and long-term career goals. For more information about the NSSE project visit