The feeling you get when you receive your offer into the graduate school of your choice is undeniable one of the best feelings ever! You may have been working on your application for months, recommenders may have bailed out on you, the personal statement began to look like a blur after too many rewrites but you finished it, submitted it, and got it. The next order of business is always “so how will I pay for this?” This can be answered in many ways, but for now I will just offer my own two cents.
For me, I was lucky enough to leave my undergraduate institution with minimal student debt because I was granted a full scholarship. However, unlike undergrad, I knew that it would be difficult to secure sufficient funding in grad school. When I started my grad school application process, I would search the websites to determine how schools would disburse financial aid. Heller usually offers at least a 50% merit scholarship to most students applying to their programs, though some programs may offer more. This was a green flag for me when applying because it showed that Heller did not want students to necessarily worry about the financial part, but to come in and be able to learn without the additional stress.
A few things I learned when seeking funding for grad school: First, I learned when searching for funding, you need to be specific in your wording. I would recommend searching for “scholarships for public policy students” or “scholarships for graduate students”, which would narrow the information down to my particular request, avoiding disappointment from “this is only for undergraduate students only”.
Second, I live by the saying “closed mouths do not get fed” and from this, I took the initiative to reach out to my mentors, former supervisors, or programs that I worked/volunteer for. This can be helpful because most jobs or programs have funding to support individual’s academic efforts; sometimes these can be free without any additional requirements or you have to fill out an application and work out a system to receiving the funds. If you do not advocate for yourself and work ethic then who will?
Lastly, working and going to school can be difficult. I found that full-time or part-time work-study jobs to be beneficial. Note that most schools do not offer work study for graduate students, especially international students. Yet, even if it is not work study some on campus jobs are able to hire students directly to their payroll if the department allows for it. I advocate for on campus or work study employment because they work the best with students’ academic schedules, they also are able to provide support and resources, and you may be able to score a job that fits your academic interests.
Seeking funding for graduate school can be rough but it does not have to be. Always reach out to the school of your choice and see what resources they provided to graduate students; if you do not ask, then you will never know and it can be too late. This information is sometimes public but not always, so it is important to really advocate for yourself and needs at all times when you’re applying, during your time in the program, and even after.