Acquiring Funding for Your Graduate Education

Introduction

One of the most harrowing experiences of graduate school is figuring out how to finance such an expensive endeavor. This should not, however, deter you from pursuing your dreams of obtaining an advanced degree in your field. There are many funding opportunities available to graduate students and it is the hope of this author to point you in the right direction of finding said sources.

Plainly stated, graduate school is expensive. On average, the cost to earn Master’s degree is $30,000 and even higher for Doctoral degrees. The first question you should ask yourself when applying is: will the remittance payments be within my budget once I have graduated? Of course, this requires a lot of planning on your part and a bit of astrology as you’ll find yourself looking into the proverbial “crystal ball” to determine if your educational goals will be commensurate with salary that you’ll hope to be earning in the future. One could view this conundrum as a lottery: you are taking a risk of obtaining a higher degree to earn more money, but will the money you earn be enough to cover the debt incurred whilst acquiring the degree?

Available Funding

FAFSA and Stafford Loans

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Luckily, there are many funding sources available to those persons who need aid paying for higher education, with one of the most common being the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Here, you can apply for a Stafford Loan which will cover your educational expenses based on your yearly income. Stafford loans come in two flavors: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are those in which the US government pays the interest while the student is enrolled in a college as either a full or part time student, during the "grace period" (the period after a student graduates up to the first payment date), and during authorized deferments. Unsubsidized loans are those in which the student is responsible for payments of the accrued interest and the loan itself while enrolled in a college. The interest payments itself may be differed; however, the student is responsible to pay the full interest once the deferment is over.

Grants and Fellowships

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Another common way to secure funding for your graduate education is through grants and fellowships. The best part about these types of funding is you don't have to worry about paying them back. Grants and fellowship allowances are based on a student's research potential and are highly competitive. To obtain them, you must compose a research proposal, submit it and hope the granting agency thinks your research is worthy of receiving their funding. With budget cuts and a slow economy, these granting agencies have less money to offer students, so don't be upset if you are turned down. The key is to keep trying until hopefully you are funded.

Two of the more common places to apply for grants and fellowships are the EPA-STAR Fellowship and the Graduate Research Fellowship Program. These pages will guide you through the necessary requirements for applying for their respective grants and/or fellowships. This can still be a confusing process and it would be suggested that you contact your advisor/mentor in the department with more detailed questions. Some advisors/mentors may require students to obtain their own funding.

Graduate Assistantship / Teaching Assistantship

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Here at SUNY-ESF, a limited number of Graduate/Teaching assistantships are available to those students who qualify. These are the "TA's" and they are required to instruct the laboratory and recitation sections of many courses. For more information, visit the SUNY-ESF website.

Other funding sources

SUNY ESF has a webpage devoted to helping new graduate students find funding for their education and research. That can be accessed at http://www.esf.edu/graduate/awards.htm