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Fellowship vs scholarship vs grant: Differences and similarities

Fellowship vs scholarship vs grantCollege tuition has more than doubled in the US since 1980s, and there are an estimated 44 million Americans with student debt, with an average debt per graduate of over $17,000.

Fortunately for students, both governments and private organizations offer various types of financial aid, such as fellowships, scholarships, and grants.

Students also taken on assistantships and internships to earn and reduce their financial burden.

Here’s a quick look at various ways in which students meet their college expenses, including fellowships, scholarships, grants, assistantships, and internships. And the differences and similarities between each.

Fellowship vs scholarship vs grant


Fellowships are monetary gifts granted by organizations to master’s degree or doctoral students in exchange for their research in specific areas. A fellowship grant may run for a few months or a couple of years. Usually, graduate students with high GPAs and showing career promise are selected for fellowships.

Fellowships provide extra funds to students to meet the cost of their education and use experiential learning opportunities in their chosen areas.Fellowships work as grants that students can use for any purpose related to their education, such as tuition or housing.

A fellowship may also be a status that a university, a research center, a laboratory, a foundation, or even a government confers on a student or researcher. Often, there may be no financial aid to the person who is granted a fellowship, but only a computer, library access, or research facilities.

But the status and prestige of a fellowship from a renowned institution is often motivation enough for researchers to apply for fellowships. Top researchers are often willing to meet the research expenses themselves for a fellowship. They may receive no financial aid but only access to a university department’s research facilities.

What does it mean to get a fellowship?

Improving subject expertise and inspiring professional development of the fellow is the main objective of a fellowship. Fellowships provide fellows with meaningful work experiences and allow them to take on important project responsibilities.

Fellows get opportunities to attend important seminars and discussions, conduct in-depth research in specific areas, and develop a wide range of skills such as public speaking, community organizing, media relations, skill and leadership development, and grant writing.

The organization sponsoring a fellowship aims to develop knowledge and leadership in a particular subject or field.

For example, doctoral fellowships are given to PhD students for advancing research in their specialties. Medical fellowships are provided to MD students for further studies in cardiac care, women’s health, pediatrics, and the like. Humanitarian foundations grant fellowships to graduate students taking forward community-based programs.

Among the major fellowships in the US are the Fulbright Fellowships, Smithsonian Fellowships, Guggenheim Fellowships, and Woodrow Wilson National Fellowships.

Although fellowships are usually awarded to graduate and postgraduates, they are now also granted to recent college graduates: for example, the Google Policy Fellowship, Capital Fellows Program, and the John Gardner Fellowship.

Some fellowships may involve grants of $5,000 to $50,000 a year, while others may come with free housing, travel aid, health insurance, student loan forgiveness, or free housing.

Fellowship selection

What do organizations look for in candidates for fellowships? Of course, academic standing is the foremost requirement. Those with integrity and motivation, who are self-starters, often get the nod. Demonstrated leadership ability earns candidates points in the selection process.

Applications may include a resume, letters of recommendation, transcript, and writing sample. Other material also may be called for depending on the fellowship program.

The selection process often involve a group interview, where candidates discuss a problem, besides individual and panel interviews.


A scholarship is often the best way for a student to pay for college, mainly because, unlike an education loan, it doesn’t need to be repaid. It is usually merit-based but can sometimes be need-based, too.

A student may apply for a university or another scholarship early in his academic career, and start receiving a scholarship when he starts his undergraduate studies. A scholarship works as financial aid.

Tips to get a scholarship

Here’s what you can do to get scholarships:

  1. Research as many scholarships as possible.
  2. Start your research early, as scholarships may have different applications and deadlines.
  3. Make your search thorough; you may be eligible for more scholarships than you thought possible.
  4. Stay alert for scholarship scams that demand a fee or scholarships that seem too good to be true.
  5. It may be necessary to devote as much time to the process of compiling application material and completing an application as you would allot to preparing for a regular academic course during one term.


Fellowship vs scholarship

How is a scholarship different from a fellowship? A scholarship always involves financial aid as tuition fee or daily or living allowance.

For example, if New York University provides a scholarship to a student, or NASA extends a scholarship to a researcher, it means that the student or researcher is receiving money from these institutions.

The scholarship may fully or party cover the costs associated with the study or research.

If a journalist, for example, receives a fellowship at Harvard, it means that she will get some facilities to conduct investigations and do research.

Financial support may not be part of the fellowship. But if a scholarship is granted to a journalism student, it may mean that she will be provided with financial support to study.

At the graduate level, a scholarship is almost always known as a fellowship. But fellowships are not exclusively only for postgraduate studies.

Some fellowships are granted to undergraduate students, too. Fellowships may grant special status and privilege to the students and significantly improve their access to contacts and development opportunities.


The terms “fellowship” and “scholarship” are sometimes used interchangeably, but what queers the pitch even further is that the term “grant” is also used along with these two words, particularly with scholarships.

There is a difference in the meanings of “scholarship” and “grant.” Both involve at least some financial aid, but what usually differentiates a grant from a scholarship is that a grant is generally need-based, and depends largely on the student’s family’s financial circumstances, which is why is known as a “need-based gift.”

Whether you need financial aid or don’t is the question that is considered by the authorities approving a grant.

Of course, this is not to say that grants are not awarded based on merit.It is, often. On the other hand, a scholarship is often not need-based but are awarded to students who have proven themselves academically.

If a student receives a scholarship, he will probably have to maintain some academic standard, such as a certain GPA, to continue to receive the scholarship.

Grants may have to be repaid under certain circumstances: if the student withdraws from the program, there’s a change in the status of enrollment (full-time to part-time), or the financial need is reduced by other grans or aid.

The benefactors

As we saw earlier, fellowships are given by university, research foundations, and other academic institutions.

Scholarships and grants are granted by the federal government in the US (the need-based Pell Grant), state governments (for residents going to college in their own state), colleges (merit-based or need-based), and private organizations (companies, foundations, community organizations, etc.).

Fellowship grants are given to individuals for helping them study or pursue research.

The benefit to organizations providing grants to their employees taking up research is that it lifts employee morale.

The organizations also thereby become an integral part of a talent development program, are able to tone up its corporate social responsibility programs, and step up their marketing and publicity campaigns.

Scholarships, fellowships, and grants are tax-free in the US in the case of a student at an educational institution that regularly enrolls students, and if the amounts received are used to pay tuition and other fees, and for meeting the cost of books, supplies, and equipment.

Fellowship scholarships

A fellowship scholarship is usually a financial grant given to students or professionals under a fellowship program of a university or foundation.

For example, the University of Adelaide provides two scholarships under its Adelaide Dickens Fellowship program to two undergraduate students majoring in English.

Fellowship scholarships are also given to professionals for pursuing further education.

For example, the AANEM’s (American Association for Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine’s) Foundation for Research & Education provides up to five international fellowship scholarships annually to physicians practicing in developing countries.


Assistantships are another way in which students fund a part of their college expenses.

Graduate assistantship is a type of paid academic employment in which students are paid for tasks they complete for faculty members, departments, or colleges. By working 20 hours a week, graduate students in the US receive a small stipend.

The difference between a fellowship / scholarship and assistantship is that while a fellowship / scholarship is financial aid provided to cover student costs such as tuition, books, supplies, and housing, an assistantship is a salary paid for work done on campus and can be used for expenses such as tuition.

Teaching assistantships and research assistantships are the main categories of assistantships.

A teaching assistantship involves helping professors teach lower-level courses to undergraduates, coordinating with faculty members, conducting study groups, grading assignments, and functioning as the acting class teacher.

Research assistantships allow graduate students to work under a professor, help conduct research, analyze finding, and publish the studies.

Selection criteria for assistantship

A large university may have so many assistantships on offer that every graduate students can hope to secure one.

However, in smaller universities, getting an assistantship may involve stiff competition and a difficult application process with an interview and a commitment to maintain a certain GPA.

The advantage is the invaluable experience gained and the chance to improve a future job resume by mentioning the assistantship.

What does a student require to be selected? Good communication skills, time management skills, and high motivation to complete tasks in additional to his normal academic responsibilities.

Assistantship vs fellowship

An assistantship and a fellowship are different in the time commitments required from a student. An assistantship may involve longer work hours and may require the student to teach at least one course per semester. This may mean more classes for the student to teach and less time for the student’s own studies.

In this respect, a fellowship is more relaxed. However, the student will have decide what to choose based on the amount of money that an assistantship / fellowship offers.

Learn more about Graduate assistantship: Teaching and research assistant jobs


An internship is temporary work offered by an organization to students or recent graduates. Usually, an internship is granted in a field that a student or graduate is interested in and can gain work experience.

Internships can be paid, unpaid, or partially paid (with a stipend), but students get a glimpse of the working world, pick up time management and communication skills, meet a mentor, and become better equipped to choose a major and make first plans for a career.

However, they should choose their fields of internship wisely and based on their interests such as software development, research, or law.

A big benefit to interns who show promise is that they are often recruited as permanent employees; a benefit to the companies is that they can find talented and trained employees among their interns.

An online search can help students explore internship opportunities in companies, nonprofits, and other organizations in their own country and abroad. Counselors, teachers, career advisors, friends, and family can help students, too. Networking and attending career fairs can also unveil opportunities.

The selection criteria are good academic standing and adequate subject knowledge and leadership and communication skills.

Learn more about how student internships work.

Types and categories of student aid: A comparison

  Fellowships Scholarships Grants Assistantships Internships
What it is Funds for tuition/housing/facilities, or status/prestige Aid for tuition, daily or living allowance Need-based “gift” for academic activities Paid academic employment for on-campus work that helps defray education costs Paid or unpaid work in an area that the student likes
Selection High GPA/career promise Merit-based, rather than need-based; students need to maintain academic standard Need-based Merit, communication and time management skills, motivation Academic standing, leadership, communication skills
Benefit to student Experiential learning; access to contacts; tax-free funds Helps meet project / research costs Financial aid for tuition, books, and supplies Tuition reimbursement, room/board assistance Work experience in a chosen field
Benefit to organization Assistance for its own research Help with corporate social responsibility, marketing, and publicity efforts Help with corporate social responsibility, marketing, and publicity efforts Assistance for academic work Trained interns can be recruited

Also read:
How to get GMAT scholarships
Scholarship success stories
References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20

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