Paying for Graduate School: Consider a Fellowship

Sage Crary
Sage Crary
Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships; pursuing an MS in Ethics and Religion

There are so many ways to pay or offset the costs of a graduate degree. One way in particular is to consider a graduate fellowship.

What is a Graduate Fellowship and Who Qualifies?

A fellowship isn’t for everyone, but it’s a great fit for some people. At its core, a fellowship is a program wherein all, or part, of your graduate degree is funded by working for the college or university you are attending. It may also include a bi-weekly or monthly salary or stipend for work performed in addition to paying for any portion of your graduate school tuition. Fellowships vary significantly in both how much they pay a student in a salary, how much of the tuition and fees it funds, and the hours and time commitment the school requires. For specific details regarding fellowship opportunities that might be available, it’s best to contact your school directly, but some general guidelines are below.

The admissions office is typically the best place to find out more information about specific fellowships your school has available. In many cases, you will need to apply for the program, interview with a committee or faculty member, and be selected from a competitive pool of applicants. Fellowships are highly competitive opportunities and provide a great asset to any resume or curriculum vitae.

What Kinds of Fellowships are Available?

Typically during a fellowship you are working for the college or university in either research, student teaching, or tutoring undergraduate students. There are of course other types of work-related assignments, but those are the most common. For students pursuing a graduate degree in education, you would likely want to look for fellowships that involve student teaching or tutoring, and those can be in any subject area. Just because you are pursuing a graduate degree in education, does not mean that your fellowship needs to be in education. For example, if you studied chemistry or biology as an undergraduate, you could student teach and tutor in those subject areas for your fellowship. Those are subject areas that often need teaching assistants at a large university level and segue easily into a graduate degree in education with a concentration in secondary education science.

The most common fellowships would involve serving as a teaching assistant or student teacher for a faculty member. This could include tutoring students, assisting in the classroom, assisting the professor with grading and coursework etc., so it’s a good fit for many education majors to get additional experience. However, most fellowships (in combination with your graduate studies) require a more than full-time commitment. This means that in most cases you cannot already be working full-time or keep your current employment while pursuing a fellowship and your graduate degree. This makes a fellowship an ideal opportunity if you have recently completed your undergraduate degree and are still seeking employment, or if you are looking to transition directly into graduate school from undergraduate studies.

What are the Benefits of a Fellowship?

How much a fellowship pays varies greatly. In most cases it will pay for a set number of credits per year towards your graduate degree — for example, six to nine credit hours for each of the fall and spring semesters and some sort of salary or stipend. The latter is paid out to you like a payroll deposit or direct deposit, and the former is applied directly to your student account bill as a type of financial aid. In rare cases, some fellowships can also include a housing allowance for on-campus housing and a meal plan.

Additionally, there can be rare times when you could ‘negotiate’ your fellowship — such as asking for additional credits to be allowed in lieu of a housing allowance (if one is offered). While it’s not particularly common to be allowed to negotiate your fellowship award, it has been done successfully.

It is also possible to both receive a fellowship and borrow additional financial aid funding at the same time to cover all of your educational and housing costs. Many students who are receiving a graduate fellowship also still borrow an unsubsidized direct loan or graduate PLUS loan for any costs beyond what the fellowship pays for.

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