Financial support does exist for graduate study, but obtaining it demands persistent and comprehensive research as well as follow-up on your part.
Start with Your Program
The best sources of information about financial aid are often the universities to which you are applying; every institution has its own resources and procedures for allotting aid. Ask your prospective department about assistantships (teaching, research or graduate), fellowships and scholarships, as well as to the financial aid office about work-study, student loans and other assistance options.
Many schools use needs analysis. Be sure to also check with each school's financial aid office for appropriate forms and procedures for that institution, along with applicable deadline dates.
Types of Aid
Below are the main types of aid for graduate study.
Grants and Fellowships
These are awards that do not require any service in return. Grants are usually provided to those with the greatest financial need. Fellowships are frequently rewarded to those on the basis of past academic merit or as a selective/prestigious award.
Research and Teaching Assistantships
These are service-awards, usually requiring you to work (by conducting research or assisting with teaching duties) 10-20 hours per week. Assistantships may vary, though, in time commitment and pay scale, so all options should be thoroughly investigated.
Most include tuition assistance, as well as an hourly or weekly pay rate. Assistantships may be available within your department, as well as throughout other university offices.Note that large universities may have separate assistantship offices, so don't rely just on your department for offerings.
There are a variety of federal and other loan programs for which you may qualify. Contact the financial aid offices at the universities to which you are applying for information regarding these loans and application procedures.
Web sites like FinAid provide useful descriptions of loan options and how to apply. While application deadlines are sometimes as late as February and March, it is important to complete financial aid forms and materials as early in the year as possible, to ensure full consideration for all options available to you.