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Search for Grad School Money Is Half the Battle, Experts Say

Identifying sources of funding for grad school and staying organized are key, some contend.

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Eddie Rice Cole Jr., a doctoral student in the higher education and student affairs program at Indiana University's School of Education, has searched for money for graduate school so much that he now has it down to a routine.

"Although the majority of my success has been Greek-organization related, the theme that transcends any graduate student remains the same: Set aside time each semester or quarter to apply," Cole says.

Cole says his typical plan is to identify when scholarships, fellowships, and travel grants are available, which he usually learns about through university, departmental, community, and professional associations' E-mail listservs.

"After a year of grad school, it's quite easy to create a list of when opportunities come around," Cole says.

Cole's advice to make time to search for money is one of several tips that financial aid experts, accomplished graduate students, and even graduate school deans offer students searching for money for graduate school.

[Read how getting published can lead to money for graduate school.]

Cole says he also makes it a point to organize references and letters of support in advance. "I find it easier to ask for multiple letters of recommendation at once from faculty or administrators than to repeatedly ask in January and again in late February and then in March and so forth," Cole says. "That's a win for everyone."

Cole also recommends trying to finish applications early so someone can review them—or at least so he can step away from the application materials and reread them with a fresh set of eyes before he sends them off.

Other expert tips in searching for money for graduate school include:

1. Be aggressive: "At the graduate level, students are expected to be more proactive about finding sources of support for graduate school," says Nathan Bell, director of the Research and Policy Analysis at the Council of Graduate Schools. "It just comes with the territory."

2. Look within the institution you attend: "There are many funding opportunities available to students, even within their own institution," says James C. Wimbush, dean of The University Graduate School and professor of business administration at Indiana University. "But they really have to be diligent to look for them to try to identify them by going to the graduate school to find out what they know is available, go to other offices on campus, if there's a diversity office, if there's an office of research, to find out what they have.

"Of course, students should look within their own departments."

[Learn how to get more money from your graduate school.]

3. Find the money people on campus: "We try to put students and funding together whenever possible," says Jacqueline E. Huntoon, associate provost and dean of the Graduate School at Michigan Technological University.

As an example of how this is done, Huntoon mentioned a liaison within the Research Office who works primarily with graduate students who want to write their own proposals for funding.

Huntoon says the Graduate School provides a small financial incentive award if students work with the liaison to prepare and submit a proposal.

4. Be creative: "Not all funding opportunities are fellowships and scholarships," Indiana's Cole says. "Some institutions have paid teaching opportunities that asks graduate students to create a course and submit a syllabus. I've done that, had my class accepted, and plan to teach my class the last half of this semester. That's $1,000."

5. Search websites you may have previously overlooked: Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of finaid.org and fastweb.com, says although his websites are popular among undergraduates, they are underutilized among graduate students. "The idea that you can search for fellowships on sites like Fastweb is often overlooked," Kantrowitz says. "[Graduate students] don't search the database even though we do list graduate fellowships."

[Read more about grad students losing the federal loan subsidy.]

6. Apply again: "One additional thing that students often overlook is fellowship programs that the student might apply for and not win and don't apply to again, even though you can apply to certain ones twice," Kantrowitz says. He cites a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship as an example of a program students could apply to during their first year of graduate school even if they were rejected during their senior year as an undergraduate.