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How to Get Graduate School Funding

A guest post from, by Stephen Friedfeld, PhD.

As a graduate student, applying for funding for research can be a long, difficult and uncertain process. Many fellowships are out there – but you’ll need to do your research to find the right ones! Even as an applicant to graduate programs – especially those in the sciences and in engineering – you should apply for fellowships. You’ll be a much more attractive candidate in the admissions process if you come in with your own funding, since the university and individual professors will not need to fund your research.

When beginning your graduate scholarship application process, make sure to start at the closest (possible) resource. If you’re an undergraduate, talk to your adviser and other faculty in the department or related fields. If you’re already a graduate student, you might also confer with administrators in your division (within the university – such as school of engineering or school of education) or the graduate school itself. Many local sources maintain a pool of funds from private sources, alumni, grants and endowments to be used specifically for graduate students.

  • Begin early. It’s never too early to start looking for funding. To receive funding, you often need to apply three to twelve months in advance.
  • Broaden your search. Make sure that you apply to as many appropriate fellowships as possible, since limiting yourself to just one or two can be risky.
  • Check your eligibility. Check the guidelines carefully before filling out the applications! For many U.S. scholarships, for example, U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status can be a primary requirement.
  • Share your statement of purpose. Show a draft of your statement of purpose to your adviser, other faculty (including committee members), and peers in your field of study. Is your funding proposal original? Do you address the theory? Do you describe in detail your proposed process and methodology of research?
  • Get strong letters of recommendation. Find professors who know you well. Be sure to provide recommendation letter writers with a copy of your research funding proposal so that they know to tailor their letters accordingly. A good idea is to ask professors to keep copies of letters of recommendation in case you need them to serve as references in the future. Perhaps most importantly, provide your letter writers with at least four weeks’ notice, if possible.
  • Follow directions. Do not exceed the limits on applications and pay close attention to the application criteria – including deadlines!

When you receive a fellowship offer, make sure that it is the right one for you before accepting it. You’ll need to understand the costs of your dissertation and the contract that you are entering.

Stephen is the former associate dean of graduate admissions at Princeton University. He is now the COO of AcceptU, a virtual admissions counseling group.

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