Understanding Scholarships for Graduate Students

Created by Henry Steele

By Henry Steele - April 16, 2018
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Reading Time: 4 minutes

To earn a higher salary and attain more responsibility in their jobs, more students today are deciding to earn a master’s degree. After all, statistics show that professionals with a master’s degree usually earn more in their career than those with only a bachelor’s degree. Government data shows that students with a master’s degree can earn an average $12,000 more per year than those with only their bachelor’s. More students in the past few years also turned to graduate school when they had difficulty finding good employment.

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But deciding to earn your master’s degree means you need to determine how to pay for it. Graduate school can be a great step forward in your career, but it costs more than undergraduate school in most cases. Plus, there is a lot of federally backed financial aid for bachelor’s students, but less for master’s students.

Even though it can be trickier to find, there are plenty of scholarships available for various types of master’s degrees today. Graduate school financial aid is generally available from the following sources:

  • The graduate school program itself – can include scholarships, grants and fellowships
  • State and federal government agencies
  • Corporations
  • Professional associations and organizations
  • Organizations that advocate for minorities and other types of special interest groups

Finding financial aid for your master’s program requires you to use similar tactics as what you used to find undergraduate funding. But there are some special circumstances and considerations to remember when you are looking for grad school financial aid. General scholarships can be both merit and need-based, but are often for undergraduate school. Thus, many graduate students may miss out on the best scholarships, which often are federal grants.

To find the most graduate school scholarship dollars, experts advise focusing your strategy on three prongs:

  • Scholarships specific to the school
  • Scholarships specific to the student
  • Scholarships specific to the subject

Scholarships and fellowships often fund certain types of graduate students who are studying certain fields. Use all of your unique attributes to find graduate school financial opportunities. Also, corporations and professional associations support their own industries and causes by offering scholarships for graduates studying certain fields and subjects. Privately funded scholarships often promote advanced research in certain fields that can be conducted in graduate school, too.

Scholarships for Specific Subjects

Some graduate school financial aid opportunities offer large monetary awards to encourage certain types of students to move into a certain academic program. For instance, technology fields require excellent students who are interested in pursuing cutting edge research. To get the most talented students, various science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects have extensive scholarship opportunities.

For example, the following graduate school scholarships are available in technical fields for certain types of students:

  • Clare Boothe Luce Program Scholarships: This award is for female students who are studying science, mathematics or engineering. Grants are awarded to four year and two year institutions and not to the individual. Preference is for Catholic universities with excellent science programs.
  • Nancy Foster Scholarship Program: This is offered to support women and minorities earning a PhD in oceanography, marine biology and maritime archaeology; up to $42,000 per year.
  • American Society for Engineering Education Scholarship: This opportunity is for graduate students who are studying STEM subjects; the program is intended to increase the numbers of civilian scientists who work in labs for the Department of Defense.

Further, the shortage of qualified professionals in other fields can influence the numbers of graduate scholarships available. For example, nurses are seriously needed in many parts of the US, so there are more graduate scholarships for nursing professionals earning their Master of Science in Nursing. One is the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Scholarship, which is open to any Academy member who is earning an MSN, up to $2500 per year.

Other subject areas where demand may be acute for more workers include:

  • Architecture
  • Human resources
  • Project management
  • Law
  • Math
  • Teaching

Scholarships for Specific Students

In many graduate school subjects, women and minorities have more access to scholarships that are intended to increase their numbers in American higher education. Scholarships for certain cultural groups – including African Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans – provide financial opportunities so there are more diverse populations working in higher paying jobs and areas with more economic opportunity.

Some examples of graduate school scholarships available for certain populations are:

  • ACHE Albert W. Dent Graduate School Scholarship: This is a $5000 scholarship offered by the Foundation for the American College of Healthcare Executives for minority students attending a healthcare management program for a master’s degree. It is offered each year.
  • Brown and Caldwell Minority Scholarship Program; This is a $5000 scholarship for minority students who are studying environmental engineering in graduate school.
  • ExxonMobil Bernard Harris Math and Science Scholarships: This is a $5000 scholarship intended for minority students who are pursuing graduate degrees in technology, engineering, science and math.

If you are a minority graduate student who is economically disadvantaged, there are many merit and need-based scholarships available to you with sufficient research. Other groups of students who can benefit from the widely available student-specific financial aid include students who are physically disabled, foster children, refugees, and gay and transgender students.

School Specific Scholarships

Many universities offer school specific scholarships because it is important for many of them to attract high quality graduate students. When the best and brightest are attending certain graduate programs, it provides much needed exposure for the university and program. This is why more and more graduate schools are providing attractive fellowships and scholarships for students in their programs. A fellowship usually includes tuition help and an allowance for living expenses, in exchange for doing teaching or research work in the university. Some of the opportunities available at graduate schools include:

  • University of North Carolina: Students who are attending this full time MBA program are eligible for merit fellowships; at least 30% of students attending get at least a partial fellowship.
  • Cleveland State University: Offers undergraduate and graduate scholarships to students who are studying accounting and related programs.
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst: Offers master’s scholarships to students who are studying various engineering disciplines.

As you are narrowing down which university and program you will attend, be sure to spend at least a few weeks looking for scholarship opportunities according to your subject, university and personal attributes. Those students who spend the time usually find ways to fund much of their graduate school cost with scholarships and grants that do not need to be paid back.


Henry Steele
Managing Editor
Henry is Managing Editor of BusinessStudent.com. He is a seasoned business professional who regularly consults with local business's throughout Southern California. Henry pursued his undergrad in Business and Economics at the University of San Diego and gained valuable life changing experience through a unique internship upon graduation.

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