Graduate School Funding for Masters Degree Programs
Types of funding, tuition aid, scholarships, fellowships, research & teaching assistantship
Many good things, in life, including education, are unfortunately not free. With costs of resources, faculty, facilities, and student support bodies, the costs of maintaining and successfully running an institution can wander into big numbers. So, naturally, providing free education to the entirety of a student body would be both an academic and administrative suicide for an institution. However, for the many students, looking for a higher education degree, this explanation brings little to no solace to the potential loss of a dream future on account of lack of funds to continue their degree.
The solution to the nightmare comes in the form of various means of funding aimed at helping graduate students to pursue their degree. The options include different kinds of financial assistance, with or without a clause of repayment, attached. The reader is encouraged to follow the links, within each section, for details and a better understanding.
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Types of Graduate School Funding
Tuition Support from Graduate School
Unlike undergraduate programs, graduate schools usually find a way to provide full or partial tuition fee waiver to its new admits.
These can be a tuition support from the graduate school, paid directly to a student upon acceptance of admission, or it could be the more common Graduate Teaching Assistantship, and Graduate Research Assistantship, where the school provides a full tuition fee waiver while the student owes simply a nominal fee required for registration, each semester.
This fee usually includes facilities fee, medical fees and a few other scrap payments. Students are required to perform certain work duties, in exchange. These are akin to work study programs where the department pays back for services provided by the student. Most assistantships have a duration of 5 years, with some departmental flexibility.
- Graduate Teaching Assistance: Students are responsible to teach, grade, or provide teaching support to faculty members in their department. Teaching takes up to 20 hours a week and students are required to maintain a full time status, plus a minimum number of credits, that depends on the program and department, to continue with their teaching assistantships.
They are paid a stipend of an average of $6,000 per semester and health coverage. The exact value of the stipend is subjective to the program. While this facility is usually available to Doctoral students, Masters students, with good academic records, are also often selected to become TAs. The department provides full tuition fee waiver.
- Graduate Research Assistance: Students are involved in research activities, in their field of study, under the guidance of a full time faculty member. They are paid a stipend, and health insurance. The source of funding, here, comes from grants received by the supervising faculty member.
Other full tuition waivers are obtained upon qualifying for either one of Graduate Teaching Fellow, Instructional Assistant, and more. It is best to visit the individual university pages and contact department Graduate Secretaries for more information.
While most Doctoral students are able to secure partial to full tuition waiver, a majority of Masters students are not offered an assistantship, at least to begin with. With professional Masters courses running a tab of $30k plus, notwithstanding living costs and health insurance, borrowing from external sources is often the only recourse.
That is why student loans have become so popular with many international private lenders joining in to create a business out of this necessity. The most common practice, still, involves borrowing from a bank in ones’ parent country.
In India, for instance, student loans for a foreign degree have quite favorable interest rates. Federal loans, like the unsubsidized Stafford Loans, and the Graduate Plus program, are available to graduate students of US origin.
Most loans, except for Stafford, usually have a grace period before students are liable to begin repayment. This grace period covers the period of study in addition to a few months, specific to the loan, availing students the time to find employment. Student loans also get some relief in taxes.
However, the status of student loans in the US is currently indicating a trend of inability to repay with defaulters owing in excess of an average of $35k in unpaid amount. Clearly, you need to evaluate your future earning potential, and a repayment backup plan, before relying on a student loan for a degree.
Guide to Education Loans to study abroad
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Scholarships and Fellowships
Candidates have the option of applying for scholarships offered by the department, university, charitable institutions, government, or by companies/organizations who recognize talent and are eager to nurture it. These scholarships can cover partial to full tuition. Some even offer living expenses and a nominal stipend.
The criteria, to be selected for a scholarship, or fellowship, from a donor is usually one of merit-based or need-based. The distinction between them, as per expert opinion, requires merit-based financial aid to be referred to as Scholarships while need-based as Grants.
Often certain scholarships offer financial assistance to specific race, religion, gender, or the LGBTQ communities. American candidates, applying for a need based federal scholarship/grant are required to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, to be assessed for their eligibility.
Other custom fellowships are often granted to the more mature graduate students with qualifying qualities as per the fellowship. For instance, final year PhD students, in many universities, can apply for a Dissertation Completion Fellowship, to allow a steady source of income in the event of lack of funds from other sources.
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We encourage you to do your homework and suggest any pertinent information we may have missed. Meanwhile, here are a few related links that may interest you. We will continue to update the links with relevant articles, for your benefit.
- Guide to an international MS degree
- How to reduce cost of living as an international student, in the US?
- Cheapest countries to study abroad for international students