Graduate school can open doors for your career, from raising your salary to helping you climb the corporate ladder. It comes at a price, though: The average student loan debt for someone with a Master of Arts degree is a gulp-inducing $58,539.
The good news is that graduate school scholarships and graduate school grants are available to help you offset the cost of school. Here are eight resources you can use to help you find them.
How to find grad school scholarships
Here are the top resources for finding grants and scholarships for graduate students.
Fastweb is one of the largest college advice and financial aid databases available. According to the company, you can use the platform to search through over 1.5 million scholarships, totaling over $3.4 billion in value.
To find grad school scholarships that match your strengths and interests, you must create a Fastweb account. The site will then ask you to enter details like your GPA, major and hobbies. Fastweb uses that information to find scholarships that match your profile.
GoGrad helps graduate students by providing tips and advice on how to pay for school, including federal grants for graduate school and grad school scholarships.
GoGrad also lists plenty of niche scholarships, including options for women and veterans. The platform clearly shows how much each scholarship is worth, what the sponsoring organization is and what the deadline to apply is. It also lists the requirements for each application, such as submitting an essay or planning to study in a certain field.
Unigo is a site for high school seniors and current college or graduate students. Aside from providing resources to help you decide which school is best for you and how to make the most of your education, it also has a searchable database of graduate school scholarship opportunities. You can sign up for a free account to be notified of new scholarships.
The company also awards its own scholarships. You could receive up to $10,000 by applying for Unigo awards. To date, Unigo has distributed nearly $500,000 in scholarships.
Besides the usual scholarships for excellent students, Unigo also has quirky ones. For example, the company offers a $2,000 Zombie Apocalypse Scholarship to the person who can come up with the best survival plan for if zombies were to overrun your school.
Scholarship America states it believes that every student deserves a college education, regardless of their financial situation. The organization gives students the resources and information they need to go to school without ending up in significant debt.
Scholarship America has distributed over $4.2 billion in scholarships to more than 2.5 million college and graduate school students to date. The organization has dozens of scholarship opportunities available, including options specifically for grad school students.
While other organizations offer smaller graduate school scholarships, Scholarship America offers large awards. Past recipients of the organization’s Dream Award have received an average of more than $24,000.
Scholly is a mobile app that makes finding grad school scholarships easier. According to Scholly, hundreds of thousands of students have used the app to identify over $70 million in scholarship opportunities. You can’t apply for scholarships on Scholly (yet), but the app can help you find money you would have otherwise missed.
Once you create an account on Scholly, which is available for iOS and Android smartphones and online, you can find scholarships that are a good fit. You can filter results by grade level or major, making it easy to find graduate-level scholarships. The app also helps you keep track of deadlines and prioritize which scholarships to apply for.
The student loan company Sallie Mae has its own tool that helps you find graduate school grants and scholarships. Sallie Mae’s database features over 950,000 graduate scholarships, totaling up to $1 billion in value.
Once you register for a free account, create your profile by entering details like your area of study, interests and skills. You also can set up alerts when new scholarships become available or search by field, region, demographic and school.
Big Future is a database is created by The College Board, a not-for-profit organization that helps students prepare for a successful transition to college via its own programs and the broader education community through its advocacy for educators, students and schools.
Although there aren’t scholarship opportunities specifically for graduate students, you can search under the “non-degree” option in the database to find general funding opportunities. Listings may include the scholarship sponsor, the award type, the minimum or maximum scholarship amount and the application deadline.
Although there isn’t an app or a snazzy database to find them, you can identify valuable graduate school grants and scholarships via professional associations. To encourage students and professionals to continue their education and improve their expertise in a given field, these groups give out thousands of dollars each year.
For example, if you’re a member of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), you can apply a variety of scholarships for academic achievement.
If you’re not yet part of a professional organization, JobStars has a list of associations for fields that include engineering, accounting, marketing and child care. You also can ask your department chair for recommendations about which associations you should join.
How coronavirus, recession can impact graduate school enrollment
Amid an economic downturn spurred by the coronavirus crisis, college enrollment in 2020-2021 is expected to drop by 15%, which includes a 25% decline in international students. International students have held around 13% of graduate school spots on average since 2014-2015, so that bigger decline could offer opportunities for domestic students considering additional schooling.
If these graduate school enrollment projections hold, there would be more than 450,000 fewer occupied spots in 2020-2021 than the prior academic year.
According to a survey conducted in mid-to-late April by the Institute of International Education (IIE), 88% of higher education institutions responded that they anticipated international student enrollment would decline in 2020-2021. To combat potential issues, 75% of institutions were allowing students to defer enrollment to late-fall 2020 or the spring 2021 semester.
It’s cheaper than ever for graduate students to borrow federal loans
Federal unsubsidized loans for graduate or professional borrowers have an interest rate of 4.30% for the 2020-2021 academic year — the lowest in history. On a 10-year repayment plan, that’s a $10 monthly payment for every $1,000 borrowed, with $232 in lifetime interest for every $1,000.
Compare that to the cost of borrowing $1,000 in the 2019-2020 academic year when the interest rate for graduate borrowers was 6.08%. Borrowers would owe $11 monthly for every $1,000 borrowed if on a 10-year repayment plan, with $337 in lifetime interest for every $1,000.
That may not seem like a huge difference. But assuming an annual cost of $30,000 for a master’s degree at a public school, the difference in lifetime interest owed on $30,000 in student loans with interest rates of 4.30% and 6.08% on a 10-year repayment plan would be $3,150.
Graduate school becomes a popular option during recessions
We still don’t know what the current recession has in store, but graduate school enrollment jumped during the Great Recession (2007-2009) as laid-off workers and struggling recent graduates saw opportunities to boost their job prospects by increasing their credentials.
If recovery starts later than was projected early in the coronavirus crisis, we may see another run on graduate school enrollment, assuming prospective students decide they’re comfortable with distance learning should that need continue past the fall semester.
Paying for graduate school
Depending on your area of study, completing a graduate school program can help you get a job sooner and boost your pay. However, whether you should go to postsecondary school isn’t an easy decision. The high cost — even with scholarships for graduate students — can cause financial issues later.
If you aren’t sure whether pursuing an advanced degree is right for you, closely consider if graduate school is worth it before making the financial commitment. And if you decide it is the right next step for your career, take the time to explore the numerous grad school scholarship and grants available to ease the debt burden later, and be careful with any loans you do take out.
Sarah Li Cain contributed to this report.