What separate graduate school grants from scholarships and other forms of post-secondary educational funding? The broad-stroke difference is between grants and loans; grants are gifts and loans come with repayment strings attached. What about graduate school grants versus scholarships? The key difference is need versus merit. Grants are generally awarded on a needs basis, whereas scholarships are given to those with exceptional grades, skills or other qualifications that set them apart; they are normally at the top of the class. Not everyone can be so highly ranked; this is where graduate school grants become sensible considerations.

A lot of students, when they become university freshmen, are not realistically conscious of the amount of money it will take to complete even a four-year degree program; when you consider that a percentage of those will go higher and obtain a master’s degree or even a doctorate, that adds years and costs to the bill. Current expenses indicate that a full eight years in university runs at about $185,000! But the country needs qualified people to fill pivotal roles in medicine, engineering and technology, business, and the sciences, so there are graduate school grants to help you move from your under-graduate studies to post-graduate programs without a blip on the radar.

The majority of graduate school grants are made available by the government, at some level, with the federal programs serving most students. It may be that you were able to self-fund or have your family pay for your costs of obtaining an under-graduate degree, but in order to continue, you must find a grant. Almost all grants are needs-based methods of covering certain (or all) costs, so you’ll have to prove two things: 1. that you cannot by other means pay for your higher education in order to achieve a post-graduate degree; and 2. that your income (individual or family) is at the present too low to pay for education. This is pivotal. It takes four years to get your bachelor’s degree, and if your financial circumstances, or your family’s (if they support you) have declined since you became a university freshman, then a needs-based grant might be the difference between completing your doctoral aspirations and giving up advanced learning to settle for an inferior job in the workplace.

Virtually all grants must be applied for through the same system as student loans. Even graduate school grants follow this procedure, and it makes no difference whether you obtained your under-graduate degree through grants or not, you must re-apply for graduate school grants. The application is the standard FIFSA form, and that can be found on-line or through your current university’s student finance department (even if you plan to switch to a different university for post-graduate studies).

Here’s a tip: Unless you have no idea what your future holds and have not made any plans, you should be able to predetermine the likelihood that you’ll need a graduate school grant well before you get your under-graduate degree. Therefore, don’t wait until the last month of your senior year to start investigating the grants for which you qualify and getting your applications in. It’s okay to make simultaneous applications, especially if you are applying for a federal or government grant and also have been able to identify a private grant that suits your needs. Start early, ensure your application is correct and legible, and is together with all of the requisite supporting documentation.

Graduate school grants are different from under-graduate school grants in that they often need to cover a lot more than the basic costs of tuition and books. Especially for students enrolled in a doctoral program, there is seldom sufficient time, given heavy course loads, to also hold down a part-time job. Therefore, funds are often needed to cover educational aspects as well as cost of living. Grants do exist that take care of all costs, a totally comprehensive package. It helps measurably if you prepare and live by a sensible budget, even if you happen to be a married student with children. Older students who have their own families are frequently the ones engaged in post-graduate courses, so this is not uncommon.

As with any granting programs, your student financial office will have the most current information and the details about the grant you need and for which you most readily qualify. Of course there are private grants from such places as business associations, private corporations, charitable foundations and endowments. Leave no stone unturned. If you are serious about obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree, but can’t figure out how to fund your studies, get on the case of finding a suitable graduate school grant.

Students enrolled in degree programs that will result in them entering high-demand professions will invariably find it easier to uncover appropriate grants. Such areas of study include: health sciences; engineering; technology; mathematics; and other sciences. Specialized grants for such areas of study are perhaps more prolific because of the paucity of qualified professionals in these areas. Systems engineering, for example, may be perceived as somewhat boring as a profession, but the endless changes in modern computer technology result in the need for more and more people who can program and code for software applications. It’s a challenging, not a tedious, enterprise, but because of its dull public perception, there are not enough students entering these degree options. A sufficient number of health sciences professionals, especially specialists, will increase as the Baby Boomer population ages and health care issues accordingly increase. Graduate school grants are in place now to help assuage that imbalance for the near future.

By the time you need a graduate school grant, you have already spent a few years in the university stream, and should be able to prove your tenacity by your academic record If it’s exceptional, you may qualify for a graduate school scholarship. But even average students need to stay in the program and complete their studies, fulfilling vital roles in society for years and decades to come. The government and private sector know that, and have made graduate school grants a high priority.

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