Financial Aid and Scholarships for Masters programs

Graduate students owe $37 billion in loans

Graduate Programs account for 40 percent of federal student loans issued each year. That is more than $37 billion in loans each year.

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FAFSA for Graduate Students

Find out the prerequisite, application process and how graduate school financial aid works.


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What are Graduate Scholarships?

Graduate scholarships represent financial awards or grants bestowed upon individuals who have completed their undergraduate studies and are now embarking on advanced education at the graduate level, including master's and doctoral programs. These scholarships typically hinge on factors like academic prowess, noteworthy accomplishments, or specific eligibility criteria outlined by the sponsoring organization.

Their primary purpose is to support students as they pursue higher education, assisting with expenses like tuition, fees, and occasionally, living costs. Universities, government bodies, private institutions, or charitable foundations may extend these scholarships. Applicants vying for these scholarships are often required to showcase their academic excellence, research potential, leadership capabilities, or dedication to a specific field of study.

Securing a graduate scholarship can wield a profound impact, substantially alleviating the financial challenges associated with pursuing advanced degrees. This, in turn, renders higher education more accessible to a diverse range of students and empowers them to concentrate on their studies and research without the burden of overwhelming student loan debt.

What are the types of Graduate Scholarships?

Scholarships manifest in diverse forms, classifying into various categories based on their criteria, intentions, and origins. Here are some of the common scholarship types:

  • Merit-Based Scholarships: These accolades honor students for their academic prowess, whether it's a stellar GPA, outstanding standardized test scores, or remarkable achievements in extracurricular endeavors.
  • Need-Based Scholarships: These grants extend support to students facing financial constraints by considering their economic circumstances, aiming to alleviate the financial burden of education.
  • Athletic Scholarships: Often provided by colleges and universities, these awards recognize exceptional talent in sports, fostering the recruitment of gifted athletes for collegiate sports teams.
  • Artistic Scholarships: These scholarships celebrate outstanding talent in artistic domains such as music, dance, visual arts, or theater. Applicants may be asked to audition or submit portfolios showcasing their creative aptitude.
  • Military Scholarships: Available to students with plans to serve or already serving in the military, often provided by military branches or veteran organizations.
  • Ethnic or Cultural Scholarships: Geared towards supporting students from specific racial or cultural backgrounds, fostering diversity and inclusivity in the realm of education.
  • International Scholarships: Designed for non-citizens or international students seeking to study in a particular country, encompassing both merit-based and need-based opportunities.
  • Private Scholarships: Furnished by private organizations, foundations, or businesses, these scholarships encompass a wide range of eligibility criteria and purposes, from recognizing academic excellence to community involvement.

What is the difference between merit-based and need-based scholarships?

Merit-based scholarships and need-based scholarships represent two distinct forms of financial assistance available to graduate students to facilitate their pursuit of higher education. Merit-based scholarships for graduate students primarily rely on academic or skill-related accomplishments, whereas need-based scholarships factor in the student's financial situation and their capacity to meet educational expenses. Both types of scholarships share the common goal of assisting graduate students in achieving their advanced educational objectives; however, they diverge in their eligibility and selection criteria.

  • Merit-Based Scholarships for Graduate Students: Merit-based scholarships awarded to graduate students recognize and reward exceptional achievements, accomplishments, or outstanding abilities in their chosen fields. These scholarships acknowledge excellence in areas such as GPA, standardized test scores, research endeavors, leadership roles, or other notable accomplishments. Graduate students who have demonstrated outstanding academic performance or possess noteworthy skills pertinent to their field of study often qualify for merit-based scholarships.
  • Need-Based Scholarships for Graduate Students: Need-based scholarships cater to graduate students facing financial constraints in their pursuit of education. These scholarships consider factors such as family income, expenditures, and other financial circumstances when assessing eligibility. Graduate students confronting financial challenges or possessing limited resources may become eligible for need-based scholarships, which serve to alleviate the financial burden associated with their graduate studies.

Can you get Financial Aid for grad school?

Yes, financial aid for graduate school is available through various sources. Graduate students can access federal loans, including Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Graduate PLUS Loans, by completing the FAFSA. Scholarships, assistantships, fellowships, and grants are additional options provided by universities, private organizations, and government agencies. These financial aid opportunities can help cover tuition, living expenses, and research costs, making graduate education more affordable.

How does Financial Aid work for grad school?

Financial aid for graduate school typically operates through a combination of federal and state programs, university-based assistance, and external scholarships. Graduate students start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines their eligibility for federal loans and work-study programs. Universities often offer assistantships, fellowships, and grants based on academic merit, research potential, or financial need. Students can also seek external scholarships from various organizations. The aid received can cover tuition, living expenses, and research costs.

Are all students eligible for graduate scholarships?

Graduate scholarships exhibit a diverse range of eligibility criteria, and not all students inherently meet these prerequisites. These scholarships are typically competitive, with awards contingent on specific factors, necessitating the fulfillment of particular requirements for consideration. To enhance their prospects of securing funding, students should conduct meticulous research on available scholarship opportunities and tailor their applications to align with scholarships that align with their distinctive qualifications and circumstances.

Academic excellence often occupies a pivotal role in scholarship eligibility. Many graduate scholarships favor students boasting outstanding undergraduate academic records, characterized by elevated GPAs and remarkable standardized test scores. Demonstrating a consistent history of scholarly accomplishment constitutes a prevalent eligibility criterion.

Furthermore, certain graduate scholarships are tailored to specific fields of study, directing their focus toward students pursuing degrees or careers within particular disciplines, such as STEM or the arts. To qualify for these scholarships, applicants are typically required to be enrolled in relevant academic programs corresponding to the scholarship's designated field.

Financial need serves as another determinant for select scholarships. Need-based scholarships are bestowed upon students who can substantiate their need for financial support to pursue graduate education. These scholarships commonly assess factors such as family income and financial obligations.

Additional eligibility criteria may encompass a commitment to community service, potential for impactful research, demonstration of leadership acumen, or alignment with specific demographic attributes like ethnicity, gender, or first-generation college status.

What are Grants? How are they different from scholarships?

Grants designated for graduate students are financial allocations or resources extended to individuals engaged in graduate-level education, such as master's or doctoral programs, aimed at mitigating the financial burdens linked to their academic pursuits and research undertakings. These grants emanate from a diverse array of sources, encompassing government bodies, universities, foundations, and private institutions.

Grants and scholarships represent financial assistance options accessible to graduate students, yet they diverge in their source, eligibility prerequisites, and purpose:


  • Grants can originate from governmental sources (such as federal or state grants), be institution-specific (awarded directly by the university), or be provided by private organizations or foundations. Government grants, like the Pell Grant, typically prioritize financial need.
  • On the other hand, scholarships may be university-sponsored (typically based on merit or tied to specific departments), privately funded (by organizations or philanthropic individuals), or granted based on specific criteria, including cultural or ethnic backgrounds.


  • Grant eligibility often hinges on factors like financial need, academic excellence, or alignment with specific research interests. Certain grants may target students pursuing particular fields or addressing specific research areas.
  • In contrast, scholarships commonly center on criteria such as academic achievement, standardized test scores, leadership capabilities, or other notable accomplishments. Some scholarships may also be earmarked for students pursuing specific majors or careers.


  • Grants are frequently conferred to alleviate the financial burden of graduate education, cover research-related expenses, or support projects relevant to the student's field of study. These funds can be utilized for purposes such as tuition, living costs, research materials, or participation in conferences.
  • Conversely, scholarships are designed to acknowledge and incentivize the achievements and potential of graduate students. They primarily serve to offset the costs of tuition, fees, and educational expenditures, enabling students to dedicate themselves to their studies and research endeavors.

Are there scholarships available for online Master’s programs?

Scholarships are indeed accessible for online graduate programs. Various scholarships exist with unique requirements and award amounts, tailored to support students in online educational settings. To determine your eligibility and the applicability of these scholarships for the online master’s programs, it's advisable to review the specific criteria and conditions of the program that you are willing to apply.

Here are some examples of scholarships offered by top universities for their online master's programs.

American University Online Program Scholarships

  • Online Master of Arts in Economics, Applied Economics Specialization: This scholarship is awarded based on academic performance. Students with a GPA between 3.5 and 4.0 are eligible for a $14,000 scholarship, while those with a GPA between 3.0 and 3.49 can receive an $8,000 scholarship. These scholarships are available on an ongoing basis. American University determines the Online Merit Scholarship decisions and notifies students upon admission or shortly after. It's worth noting that the scholarship funds are distributed equally across the 1st and 5th courses in the program.
  • Online Master of Arts in Strategic Communication: Offers scholarships ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. To be eligible, students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 and undergo a holistic evaluation of their application, considering academic qualifications, professional background, and outstanding leadership capabilities. It's imperative to maintain good academic standing throughout the program. American University will determine the recipients of the Online Merit Scholarship and notify admitted students either upon admission or shortly afterward.
  • Online Master of Public Administration and Policy: American University offers an Online Master of Public Administration and Policy program with an available scholarship amount of $12,000. This scholarship opportunity is ongoing and is open to prospective students who meet specific eligibility criteria. To qualify for the Online Merit Scholarship, prospective students should have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above on a 4.0 scale in their undergraduate program. Alternatively, individuals with five or more years of active-duty military experience, regardless of their GPA score, can also be eligible for this scholarship. 

Benedictine University Online Program Scholarships

All online graduate programs at Benedictine University qualify for these scholarship awards.

  • Government Scholarship: Government employees currently working for state or federal agencies can take advantage of a 5% discount on their total tuition fees through the Government Scholarship program. This opportunity is open to eligible students who can furnish proof of their government employment on official letterhead. 
  • Graduate Merit Scholarship: The Graduate Merit Scholarship offers a continuous incentive for academic excellence throughout your graduate program. It allows you to commemorate the final course in your degree program by granting you tuition for that course for free. To be eligible for the Graduate Merit Scholarship, you should submit your application during the term preceding your last class. 
  • Military Scholarship: Benedictine University expresses its appreciation for our service members through the Military Scholarship, which grants a 10% reduction in tuition fees. This scholarship is extended to individuals presently serving in or who have served in a branch of the U.S. military. Eligibility requires the submission of a DD214 form or official verification of military status.
  • Not-for-Profit Scholarship: The Not-for-Profit Scholarship offers a 5% tuition discount to students currently employed by not-for-profit institutions or organizations. To be eligible, applicants must provide proof of employment on official company letterhead and demonstrate their employer's non-profit status. 
  • Partnership Tuition Discount: Benedictine University collaborates with specific organizations to facilitate affordable and efficient educational and career advancement. If your employer is engaged in a partnership with Benedictine University, you may qualify for a substantial 25% tuition discount on online program offerings, making your pursuit of higher education more accessible and cost-effective.
  • Alumni discount: If you're a Benedictine University graduate considering a return to the institution, you could potentially qualify for a 25% alumni discount applicable to tuition fees for online programs.

Are there Minorities and Women scholarships?

There are many scholarships specifically designed to support minorities and women pursuing higher education. These scholarships aim to promote diversity, inclusivity, and equal opportunities in various fields and academic disciplines. They recognize the unique challenges and underrepresentation faced by certain groups and seek to empower individuals from diverse backgrounds to achieve their educational and career goals.

Some common types of minority and women scholarships include:

  • African American Scholarships: African American scholarships aim to support students of African descent pursuing higher education. These scholarships may be offered by educational institutions, non-profit organizations, corporations, or foundations with a focus on empowering and promoting educational opportunities for African American students. Some scholarships may consider academic achievement, community involvement, leadership, and personal essays in their selection process.
  • Hispanic/Latinx Scholarships: Hispanic/Latinx scholarships are designed to assist students of Hispanic or Latinx heritage in their educational pursuits. These scholarships encourage academic excellence and leadership within the Hispanic/Latinx community. Some scholarships may require applicants to demonstrate their commitment to their cultural heritage and involvement in community service.
  • Asian/Pacific Islander Scholarships: Scholarships for students of Asian or Pacific Islander descent recognize the diversity within these communities and aim to support students in various fields of study. Some scholarships may focus on specific Asian ethnicities or Pacific Islander regions, while others are open to students of any Asian or Pacific Islander background.
  • Native American Scholarships: Native American scholarships aim to provide financial assistance and support for Indigenous students pursuing higher education. These scholarships often take into account the applicant's tribal affiliation, academic achievements, community involvement, and commitment to their cultural heritage.
  • Women Scholarships: Women's scholarships are dedicated to supporting female students in their educational and career pursuits. Some scholarships focus on encouraging women to pursue degrees and careers in STEM fields, business, technology, or leadership roles.
  • First-Generation Scholarships: First-generation scholarships are targeted at students who will be the first in their families to attend college. These scholarships acknowledge the unique challenges and achievements of first-generation students and encourage their pursuit of higher education.
  • Disability Scholarships: Disability scholarships provide financial support to students with disabilities, recognizing their accomplishments and potential despite facing unique challenges. These scholarships aim to promote accessibility and inclusivity in higher education.
  • International Student Scholarships: International student scholarships are available for students from specific countries or regions who wish to study abroad. These scholarships support cultural exchange and global education by enabling international students to pursue academic opportunities in foreign countries.

How can you improve your chances of getting a scholarship?

To improve your chances of securing a scholarship as a graduate student, consider the following strategies:

  • Research and Select Wisely: Diligently research scholarships to identify those that align with your academic and professional profile. Apply broadly but focus on scholarships where your qualifications closely match the criteria.
  • Tailor Applications: Customize your application for each scholarship. Highlight experiences and skills that resonate with the scholarship’s focus, whether it’s academic, community service, or field-specific.
  • Maintain Academic Excellence: Keep up a strong academic record, as many scholarships are merit-based. This includes excelling in coursework, engaging in research, and participating in academic events.
  • Craft Compelling Essays: Write engaging essays or personal statements that reflect your unique journey and aspirations. Clearly articulate how the scholarship will aid in achieving your educational and career goals.
  • Secure Strong Recommendations: Obtain recommendations from mentors or professors who can effectively endorse your abilities and character, and inform them about the specific scholarship to tailor their recommendation.
  • Demonstrate Leadership: Highlight your leadership experiences and active participation in extracurricular activities, community service, or professional organizations, showcasing any notable contributions or achievements.
  • Showcase Research and Professional Experience: As a graduate student, emphasize any relevant research work, publications, or professional experiences in your field.
  • Adhere to Requirements and Deadlines: Thoroughly understand and meet all eligibility criteria for each scholarship. Submit applications in a timely manner, well before deadlines.
  • Interview Preparation: If an interview is part of the scholarship process, prepare diligently. Be ready to discuss your academic interests, career plans, and reasons for deserving the scholarship.
  • Apply to Multiple Scholarships: While applying to a variety of scholarships, prioritize those where your chances are comparatively higher due to your qualifications and interests aligning with the scholarship's requirements.

Can you get Scholarships after graduation to pay for Student Loans?

Scholarships are generally designed to finance educational costs such as tuition, fees, and living expenses before or while you are enrolled in a program, not for paying off student loans post-graduation. These funds are usually disbursed directly to your educational institution to offset the costs associated with your studies and are not typically accessible for loan repayment purposes once you have finished your education.

Post-graduation, there are several alternatives available that can aid in managing student loan debt. However, it's crucial to conduct detailed research and fully comprehend the terms and conditions of any loan forgiveness or repayment programs. These programs can differ significantly in their requirements and conditions, so a thorough understanding is essential before committing to any specific option.

  • Loan Forgiveness Programs: Particularly in fields like public service or education, there are programs that forgive loans. For example, in the U.S., the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program is targeted at individuals in public service roles who make qualified payments for a certain duration.
  • Income-Driven Repayment Plans: These plans adjust monthly loan payments based on your income and family size. In some scenarios, the balance of your loans may be forgiven after a set period.
  • Employer Assistance Programs: Some employers offer student loan repayment as a benefit, either included in the job offer or available after a certain period of employment.
  • Consolidation and Refinancing: Though not directly a form of scholarship, consolidating or refinancing student loans can lead to lower interest rates and reduced monthly payments.
  • Postgraduate Fellowships or Grants: While not typically meant for loan repayment, certain postgraduate fellowships or grants offer financial support that could indirectly be used to reduce student loan debts.

Can graduate students with Assistantships receive Scholarships?

Scholarships, which are usually granted based on merit, financial need, or distinct eligibility requirements, serve as a valuable complement to the benefits of assistantships for graduate students. Those with assistantships, who typically receive a stipend and tuition coverage for their teaching or research roles, can also benefit from scholarships to address further educational costs like textbooks and equipment. It is important for these students to confirm their scholarship eligibility, especially in relation to the specifics of their assistantship. Given that a wide range of scholarships are offered by universities and external entities, students with assistantships should proactively seek out these additional funding opportunities.

Are there any Academic Scholarships for graduate students?

Academic scholarships are financial awards granted based on academic achievements and excellence. Unlike loans, these scholarships do not need to be repaid and are designed to support students in their pursuit of advanced degrees. The availability and criteria for such scholarships can vary widely depending on the field of study, the university, and the specific program. 

Academic scholarships for graduate students come in various types, each tailored to different needs, disciplines, and achievements. Understanding these types can help students find the most suitable funding opportunities for their graduate studies. Here are some common types:

  • Merit-Based Scholarships: These recognize academic excellence through high grades, strong GRE scores, or exceptional undergraduate performance, independent of financial need.
  • Research Scholarships: Targeted at students in research-oriented graduate programs, these scholarships often back specific projects or study areas.
  • Teaching Scholarships: These are for graduate students who undertake teaching or assistantship roles during their studies.
  • Field-Specific Scholarships: Offered to students in particular fields like engineering, humanities, or sciences, often sponsored by professional organizations or industry-related groups.
  • Fellowships: Similar to scholarships but generally offering more substantial support, fellowships can include stipends for living expenses and are highly competitive.
  • Diversity Scholarships: Focused on enhancing diversity, these scholarships support students from underrepresented or disadvantaged groups.
  • International Scholarships: Specifically for international students studying abroad, provided by governments, universities, or global organizations.
  • Endowed Scholarships: Funded by private donors or alumni, these often bear the benefactor's name and carry specific criteria.
  • Need-Based Scholarships: Less common at the graduate level, these are awarded based on financial need.
  • University-Specific Scholarships: Many universities offer their own scholarships, which could be based on merit, need, or field of study.

What are Outside Scholarships? Are there outside scholarships for graduate students?

Outside scholarships refer to financial aid or awards that come from sources external to the university or college that the student is attending. These scholarships are not limited to, nor specifically provided by, the educational institution itself.

Some of the notable outside scholarships for graduate students are:

  • National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship: Supporting students in NSF-backed disciplines such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, this fellowship provides substantial financial backing.
  • Fulbright Scholarships: Renowned worldwide, the Fulbright Program grants scholarships for graduate students to engage in study, research, or English teaching in over 140 countries.
  • Rhodes Scholarships: As one of the oldest international fellowship programs, Rhodes Scholarships enable outstanding students globally to pursue studies at the University of Oxford.
  • American Association of University Women (AAUW) Fellowships: AAUW offers a range of fellowships and grants specifically for women graduate students undertaking full-time study or research in the U.S.
  • Ford Foundation Fellowship Programs: These fellowships focus on diversifying faculties in colleges and universities, available to students in doctoral and postdoctoral levels.
  • Hertz Foundation Graduate Fellowship: This fellowship is tailored for graduate students working toward a Ph.D. in applied physical, biological, and engineering sciences.
  • GEM Fellowship Program: Targeting underrepresented minority students, this program supports those pursuing graduate degrees in engineering and science.
  • Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans: Dedicated to supporting New Americans, immigrants, or their children, this fellowship aids those in graduate studies in the U.S.

Do students need to pay tax for graduate scholarships?

In the United States, graduate students may have tax obligations on their scholarship funds, contingent upon the usage of these funds and the specific conditions of the scholarship. A basic understanding of the tax implications is as follows:

  • Tax-Exempt Qualified Educational Expenses: According to IRS guidelines, scholarship amounts used directly for tuition, required fees, books, supplies, and equipment essential for course enrollment or attendance are not taxable.
  • Taxable Non-Qualified Expenses: Portions of scholarship funds allocated for expenses like room and board, travel, and other non-essential educational costs are considered taxable income.
  • Tax Implications for Employment-Related Scholarships: If scholarships are awarded in return for services rendered by the student, such as in teaching or research assistantships, these are generally taxable.
  • IRS Reporting Requirements: Students are obligated to report income from taxable scholarship amounts on their tax returns. Scholarship income not related to employment is often reported as part of the student’s gross income.
  • Fellowships and Grants Taxation: The tax rules for fellowships and grants mirror those for scholarships; the funds used for qualified educational expenses are tax-free, whereas funds used for other purposes are taxable.

Are there any Presidential scholarships available for Graduate students?

The majority of Presidential Scholarships are designated for undergraduate students, yet certain universities extend merit-based scholarships or fellowships for graduate students, carrying a prestige comparable to that of a presidential scholarship. These grants are typically fiercely competitive and are directed towards individuals showcasing exceptional academic accomplishments, research aptitude, and a dedication to advancing their academic discipline. In contrast to undergraduate presidential scholarships, which may encompass tuition and associated costs, financial support for graduate-level students frequently materializes in the form of research assistantships, teaching assistantships, or fellowships designed to bolster advanced studies and research endeavors.

Explore more on Presidential scholarships.

Are there any fully-funded Master’s degree programs available?

Yes, there are fully-funded Master's degree programs available, and they are typically offered by various universities, government agencies, and private organizations. These programs are designed to support outstanding students who might face financial barriers in pursuing advanced education. The term "fully-funded" usually implies that the program covers tuition and fees, provides a stipend for living expenses, and may include additional benefits such as travel grants or health insurance.

Know more about fully funded masters programs.

Do GPA scores matter for Financial Aid?

Many scholarships, grants, and academic-based financial aid programs consider a student's GPA as one of the eligibility criteria. Maintaining a strong GPA can improve a student's chances of qualifying for merit-based financial aid, which is awarded based on academic achievements. However, it's important to note that not all forms of financial aid are GPA-dependent. Need-based financial aid, including federal loans, often considers financial need rather than GPA. Therefore, while a high GPA can enhance eligibility for certain financial aid opportunities, there are other factors, including financial circumstances, that also play a significant role in determining aid eligibility.

Does GRE scores matter for Financial Aid?

GRE scores do not directly impact eligibility for financial aid, especially federal aid programs like loans and grants. Financial aid decisions are typically based on factors such as income, family circumstances, and the cost of attendance. However, some universities or specific scholarships may consider GRE scores as part of their application process. Therefore, while GRE scores may not be a primary determinant for most financial aid, they could still play a role in certain scholarship or program-specific applications.

What is the maximum amount that you can borrow for financial aid from grad school?

The maximum amount that graduate students can obtain through federal student loan programs for financial aid varies based on the specific loan type and individual circumstances. For Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans, graduate students can typically secure up to $20,500 per academic year. Moreover, they have the option to apply for Federal Direct Graduate PLUS Loans, which do not have a predefined annual borrowing limit but are subject to credit evaluations. The total borrowing limit for federal loans over the course of a graduate program can encompass the full cost of attendance, which encompasses tuition, living expenses, and other educational expenditures. Nevertheless, it's imperative for graduate students to exercise responsible borrowing, taking into account their financial requirements and the potential long-term consequences of loan repayment.