6 Tips to Win Graduate Scholarships

6 Tips to Win Graduate Scholarships

Acceptance into graduate school is a huge accomplishment and puts you one step closer to the career of your dreams. It can also come at a hefty price, since there are not as many need-based student loan options, like the Pell Grant, for graduate students.

Most graduate student funding is based on merit and the application process for fellowships, grants and scholarships can be much more involved than it was for undergrad. Award committees want to get a full picture of their applicants and might request a résumé, several recommendation letters, transcripts, test scores and financial information in addition to the essay and application.

While getting scholarships for graduate school may require a lot of work, they can pay off. These six tips can help you find and win graduate scholarships to help pay for school.

1. Start with Your School

Check with your school to see if they offer graduate scholarships just for attending. This was the case for Justine Hong, 26, when she enrolled as a MBA student at the University of Maryland in College Park. She said she received $10,000 upon acceptance to the MBA program because she had completed her undergraduate work at the same university.

Not only did Hong go to a student orientation for prospective students to learn more about scholarship opportunities, but she also made a one-on-one appointment with a financial aid officer at the school.

"The appointment catered to my unique and personal needs," she says, better helping her find graduate scholarships that specifically pertained to her degree.

2. Pursue Opportunities All Year Round

Don't stop your efforts to obtain funding in your first semester of graduate school. Instead, proactively research ways of getting scholarships for graduate school all year round. Reach out to your financial aid office and program director once a semester to see if any more aid has become available.

It never hurts to ask, as Danielle Radin, 27, a Stanford University communications graduate found out. "When I got into Stanford, I simply emailed the admissions rep to ask if there were any graduate scholarships available," Radin says. "She wrote back and instantly gave me a merit scholarship that was worth over $7,000!"

If you need more funding, talk to the financial aid office about additional options. They may not have more money to give you, but they can likely recommend other ways to help cover your costs.

3. Treat Scholarship Applications Like a Job

Don't haphazardly slap together your scholarship applications and expect to win money. You'll need to invest time in these. Usually the larger the award, the more work that is required. Give yourself several weeks, at least, to complete applications and gather the necessary transcripts and recommendation letters. Not only can winning a $10,000-$25,000 scholarship save you a lot of money on your degree, but it also looks impressive on your résumé.

4. Keep Track of Deadlines and Requirements

Keeping a meticulous spreadsheet of scholarship requirements and deadlines posted in plain view will help you manage your time and successfully get everything submitted by the due date. Use the spreadsheet to break down the application process into smaller steps with self-created deadlines.

Many graduate scholarships require recommendation letters. Ask professors and employers for these at least three weeks before you need them — and more than that if possible — allowing enough time for their busy schedules. One of the ways to use your spreadsheet is to keep track of who you asked for a recommendation, when you told them you would follow up and when the letter is actually due.

5. Look for Scholarships that Align with Your Passions

When Jonathan Curtiss, 26, discovered that Taco Bell offered a $25,000 Live Más Scholarship to individuals who showcased their passion for their field of study in a 2-minute video, he put his filmmaking talents to work.

"This especially spoke to me since I'm a filmmaker, so the application was actually really fun," says Curtiss, a second-year grad student at University of Southern California Film School in Los Angeles. Because the application process aligned with Curtiss' aspirations and skill, he was able to impress the scholarship panel and win the award in 2016.

While essay or research-based graduate scholarships are a great opportunity to earn funding for your degree, don't forget to look for alternative types of scholarships, like video- or art-based applications, to display your talents.

6. Know What's Expected of You If You Win

When researching scholarships, grants and fellowships, pay attention to what is required of you when you apply, as well as any post-win requirements. Some award programs give you the money and don't ask anything more of you. Others might expect you to attend a summer program, keep a certain grade point average or work in a specific city or field for a designated amount of time upon graduation.

For example, the King-Chavez-Parks Initiative, Future Faculty Fellowship Program, which is funded by the State of Michigan. It requires winners to obtain their master's degree from the University of Michigan within four years and be employed at a postsecondary institution for at least three years. Winners who fail to follow through with these obligations have their winnings reverted to a loan.

Graduate Awards Are Out There

Getting scholarships for graduate school is possible — you just need to know where to look. Start by asking the financial aid office at your graduate school about scholarships available for your area of study. Searching free scholarship databases can also provide additional opportunities. Be sure to search early and often to find awards all year round.

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