While less common than scholarships for undergraduate students, graduate school scholarships are available. Many graduate students pursue fellowships or assistantships that fund high-need career areas like nursing or teaching, but don’t always cover a graduate student’s living expenses. Fortunately, there are a number of scholarship opportunities to provide extra funding for students. Many employers offer some form of tuition reimbursement in exchange for remaining at that company for some time once you’ve completed your graduate degree.

Benefits of graduate school scholarships

Graduate school is an exciting opportunity to expand your career options, increase your earning potential, or gain a deeper level of subject mastery in your field of interest. Despite the numerous benefits, prospective students often feel torn between furthering their education and falling into debt. As of 2014, graduates of four-year degree programs left school with an average of $28,950 in student loan debt. Meanwhile, the most recent NCES data on graduate degree program costs found that public and private master’s programs average $26,288 and $61,104, respectively. While students can’t erase previous loans, they can avoid further debt and pay for their graduate education with a mix of scholarships, grants and fellowships.

Finding graduate school scholarships

Graduate school scholarships are available through organizations, companies, nonprofit organizations, states, and more. They can be need-based or merit-based, but students need to apply for them. Grants for graduate school are like scholarships in that you don’t have to pay them back. If you withdraw from school, you may have to refund part or all of the grant. While scholarships are often merit-based, grants are need-based and can relate to your prospective field. Fellowships for graduate students generally relate to a short-term opportunity to study or conduct research in a specific field. Awarded for academic excellence, they can include an internship or other service commitment and can pay for living expenses, or offer a stipend.

Below are a few different ways to customize your search for graduate scholarships:

  • By school: Many colleges and universities offer scholarships to graduate students from their school’s funds to attract students with the strongest academic performance. Your school or program is a great source to learn about these opportunities.
  • By field: If you’re entering a program where your expertise is in high demand – for example, in the STEM areas – you may want to focus your search on graduate scholarships from corporations, professional organizations, and foundations.
  • By demographic: Graduate scholarships are available for specific populations, such as women and minorities (including African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans). Scholarships are also available for students, foster children, first-generation college students, and non-traditional students who may be disabled.
  • By region: Although many scholarship opportunities are national funding sources, students should also search for graduate school scholarship opportunities from your home state or region. With a potentially smaller candidate pool, you can increase your chances

Other tips for applying for graduate scholarships

Don’t box yourself in to one type of opportunity. Along with field-specific scholarships, consider other criteria that you may have used as an undergrad student. Try broadening your search and looking for scholarships based on your region, ethnicity, interest, religious affiliation, or hobbies. Be methodical. Keep track of the essay questions you’ve already answered—you can use them in additional applications. And finally, make a scholarship budget. Searching for graduate scholarships may be free, but some documents that you need for your application may come at a cost, like transcripts. You may want to consider focusing on the most lucrative or likely scholarships and pass on the less favorable ones.