Tag: Financial Aid

Financing Graduate School as a First Generation Graduate Student

Ronunique Clark headshot

Ronunique Clark, MPP’23

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.

Balancing the School-Work Lifestyle with Andrea Tyree

A young woman leans against a tree, smiling.

Andrea Tyree, MPP’22

You’ve been accepted to graduate school, congratulations! You’re feeling both accomplished and relieved that you’ve passed that first hurdle. But the next hurdle is far more intimidating: how are you going to pay for it? This question forces many of us, myself included, to balance a job (or two) with the demands of graduate school. Is it possible to work and still succeed in graduate school? Yes, absolutely. Can it drive you slightly mad? Yes… absolutely.

If you’re attending Heller, you were probably offered a partial or full merit-based scholarship; most Heller students receive a merit scholarship, and many receive up to 100%. This financial aid is incredible—and one of the many reasons to attend Heller—but it can’t cover all the costs of grad school. So what do you do?

Many students will take out loans to cover the rest of the costs. Other students will utilize savings or generational wealth. Yet for some of us, like myself, these aren’t feasible options. As you will learn when you come to Heller and take courses like Assets and Social Policy, many of us don’t have the privilege (and I use that word purposefully) of those options. Supplemental scholarships may cover the remaining tuition, but this can still leave students unable to manage the cost of living. The solution: maintain a job while in grad school.

For example, I’m a first-year MPP student and I do pretty well in all of my classes. I also currently work two part-time jobs. Would I recommend this lifestyle to anyone? Absolutely not. Do I have much of a choice in it? Not really. I need this income to pay my rent and maintain a meager savings. Managing two part-time jobs or one full-time job during grad school can be overwhelming. So for those of you that will join me in these trenches this Fall, here’s my advice:


  1. Get organized.

Get a planner, start using a calendar, and write every assignment and due date down. I truly cannot recommend this enough. It’s saved me numerous times from missing deadlines or forgetting readings, and has generally helped me use my time wisely.

  1. Find your crew and work as a team.

You won’t be the only student in your program feeling stretched too thin. Find the people in your class who also feel overwhelmed by the workload and create a study group. You could share notes, review papers, or divide up readings. This will help you put your best foot forward in class.

  1. Know that there are generations of Heller students fighting for you.

You’re not the first student to balance this lifestyle, and you won’t be the last. Know that many of us here are fighting to make your experience easier. We’re advocating for flexible deadlines, reduced required readings, and pathways for support for students like you. We may not accomplish everything before you get here, but we see you, and we’re here for you.

  1. Know when to take a step back.

You may think, “Hey, I have the same 24 hours in the day as Beyoncé, I can manage this!” Do not fall into this trap. You do not have a personal chef, chauffeur, trainer, and assistant(s) like Beyoncé. Your 24 hours are not the same. I say this to remind you to give yourself a break when life feels overwhelming! Remember that you don’t have to do this all on your own, and your professors will understand if you need extensions or support. Balancing school and work isn’t easy, but it can be done. But when it all feels like it’s too much, give yourself the space to take a step back and let something go.

I’m Admitted, Now What?: Financial Aid

I talked a little bit about this in the previous post in the “I’m Admitted, Now What?” series, but today I’d like to dive a little deeper into how to evaluate your financial aid package and how to find additional ways of financing your graduate school education.

Read the fine print. When comparing graduate school financial aid packages, it’s important not to get stuck on the percentage of the scholarship you’ve received. Shorter programs, suburban or rural campuses, and internship support programs can all mean less-out-of-pocket costs for students: even living in Waltham over living in Boston can mean paying 4% less in rental costs, even though you’re still less than half an hour from the city! Additionally, some programs provide internship support; in Heller’s MPP program, students who secure paid internships can apply for matching funds of up to $2,500, and students who find unpaid internships can apply for support through Heller. These small differences can make a big impact over the course of a program.

Another factor to consider is what conditions your scholarship has: at Heller, tuition scholarships are not tied to required research assistantships or teaching assistantships because we reward you for the work you’ve already done. However, at many schools, scholarships are dependent on working as a graduate assistant, which may make it difficult for you to work for outside organizations during your graduate program.

Looking into all of these factors can take time and careful research; if you’re not sure where to look, I would suggest starting with your school’s Financial Aid page and the Policies and Procedures handbook for your specific program.

Start your search. Once you’ve compared your costs with internal scholarships, it’s time to start looking at external sources of funding. Here at Heller, we have a list of external funding sources for U.S. citizens and international students, which can be a great place to start. Fastweb.com and Funding US Study (for international students) are also fantastic resources for students looking to fund their graduate education. International students should also contact their local EducationUSA office;  EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State network of over 430 international student advising centers in 178 countries and territories and can help you to identify other sources of funding.

In many situations, there may be smaller scholarships for which you might be qualified. These small scholarships can add up; don’t dismiss opportunities because of size! Think about how you identify yourself: this can lead to some smaller pockets of money that are designated to specific groups available through advocacy organizations and/or foundations, including women’s organizations, LGBT organizations, and ethnic organizations.

Get to work! Once you get to campus, you can also start looking for on-campus employment. I’d encourage you to start your search for on-campus positions in the first few weeks, as on-campus jobs are usually in high demand. Many colleges have websites where you can search for open student employment positions, so you might even start searching the week before you arrive on campus. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box (or in this case, your program); international student offices, study abroad offices, libraries, research labs, student employment offices, and athletic departments often utilize student workers. In fact, this blog is written in part by two Graduate Assistants in the Admissions Office!

Once you’ve been in your program for a few months, don’t be afraid to approach professors about research assistantships or teaching assistantships. You can also reach out to your faculty advisor for guidance about how to approach faculty regarding your research interests or desire to teach while in graduate school.

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