Paying for graduate school requires planning. There are a variety of available sources of funding, both internal and external to the University. Here are some steps you can take to help you build a great financial aid package that can make your academic dreams come true.
Step 1: Identify fellowships that support your area of interest (i.e., humanities, sciences, engineering, etc.)
Some fellowships are designated to support specific areas (i.e., Mellon Fellowships for the humanities, Howard Hughes for the biological sciences, etc.)
- Search the Internet for funding sources
- Select sources that match up and eliminate those fellowship programs that are not applicable
- Check institutions to see if they have discipline-specific awards
- Start early, preferably during your last year of undergraduate studies
Step 2: Refine Your Search and Determine Degree Objective
As you contact potential graduate/professional schools and solidify your area of study, inquire as to what financial sources are available to you.
- Seek out a person within the school who can help you identify support for which you may qualify and who can be a reliable source for fellowship applications, reference materials, etc.
- Remember, many institutions, agencies, foundations, organizations, etc., support students seeking the doctorate only.
Step 3: Locate faculty members whose work most resembles your area of interest
Once you have determined your area of interest, seek out and make contact with those professors whose work echoes your area of interest. Remember, graduate student researcher positions are often tied to faculty research grants.
Step 4: Apply for graduate programs and notify programs of interest in consideration for possible financial support
When you find the school and program that you feel is right for you, it is time to apply for the graduate program and begin assembling your financial aid package in earnest. It is important that you follow all instructions carefully and accurately and meet all deadlines, as late applications are never accepted.
- Fulfill your entrance exam requirements early during senior year. Remember that the November GRE will be too late for many extramural funding opportunities, such as the National Science Foundation, Ford, and Howard Hughes funds. The application deadlines for these funds are around the same time.
- Ask about the amount of fees and the method for paying them (i.e., Does the department offer reimbursement or cover any fees?).
- Inform department/program of any fellowships (extramural) awarded to you.
- Inquire as to how your award will be supplemented for the non-fellowship years (i.e., TA, GSR/RA, etc.).
- Submit fellowship applications early; whenever possible utilize online applications.
- Extramural funding deadlines are likely to occur much earlier than institutional funding deadlines.
- Assume normal requirements apply (i.e., transcripts, GRE, letters, etc.).
- Order transcripts in plenty of time to meet deadlines.
- Request letters of recommendation early. Provide addressed, stamped envelopes to those from whom letters are requested.
- Follow-up to ensure that letters have been sent.
Step 5: Reasons to seek extramural support
There are multiple reasons to seek external funding of your graduate program studies. They are an indication of a student’s academic preparedness and motivation and many help promote professional development, while others are considered prestigious and can benefit you in the long term. Other reasons to seek this support include:
- Graduate programs encourage students to apply for these funds.
- Graduate programs are more inclined to be supportive of these students.
- Top financial packages are offered through some of these programs (i.e., per year awards are substantial and usually cover multiple-year periods).
- Along with support from an academic program, these awards can relieve concern of how educational/living expenses for duration of degree will be covered.
Step 6: Possible need for financial aid, need-based loans
Ideally, loans should only be considered as a final resort when financial need cannot be met through other means. If you need financial aid, contact the UCR Financial Aid Office. Contact campus-based Financial Aid Office for information. Select the loan option (long- or short-term) over the use of personal credit cards. No monthly payments incurred with loans.