Fellowships, Grants, and Scholarships: Which Award Fits My Graduate Program?

Merit-based awards for graduate students typically fall into one of three categories: Fellowships, grants, and scholarships. Each type of award supports graduate study in a different way, and each is tailored toward a specific type of graduate program. Knowing which type of award is a good fit for your program is an important first-step toward selecting funding programs that will be likely to support you.

Fellowships support a student’s living expenses, and sometimes tuition and fees. These awards often have the largest financial sums attached to them, and may even provide for a student for several years. However, funders nearly always limit fellowship eligibility to students in research-based degree programs that include production of an original thesis or dissertation, and often limit eligibility exclusively to students in Ph.D. programs. Furthermore, funders often tie fellowships to either early graduate study (application in the first 1-2 years of the program) or dissertation writing (application two years before graduation for funding to support the final year of dissertating). Finally, since many fellowship funders (especially at the early graduate stage) are U.S. government entities, these programs may limit eligibility to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. 

Grants fund thesis or dissertation research-related expenses, such as travel to a field site or archive, sample analyses, or laboratory supplies. This type of award is commonly offered by professional societies and private foundations with an interest in the research topic, and range from a few hundred dollars to the tens of thousands of dollars. Again, these funders limit eligibility to students in research-based programs, with the intent to help a student make a definable contribution to the discipline using the funds. Professional master’s degree students who choose to conduct research through independent study should contact the program officer of their selected grant program to verify their eligibility. Due to the typical 6-9 month lag time between application submission and award announcement, students in master’s degree programs who will apply for research grants often need to do so early in their second semester in graduate school to receive funds in the second year of their programs.

Scholarships award general financial support for graduate study, with allowable costs ranging from textbooks to living expenses. Scholarships may be offered by professional societies or corporations with the intent to encourage students to pursue a specific career path, or by private foundations to benefit people of a particular ethnicity, heritage, or other characteristic. These awards may be open to a range of applicants, from professional master’s degree students to Ph.D. candidates, and commonly allow application at any time during the degree program. Unfortunately, since these awards also have relatively small amounts of money attached (a few hundred to a few thousand dollars), relying on merit-based scholarships as a primary funding stream for graduate study may be challenging.

To learn more about applying for these different types of awards, Rutgers graduate students can visit the Application Advice section of the GradFund Knowledgebase. Then, search the Pivot Database for possible awards for your program of study, and schedule an Individual Meeting with GradFund for one-on-one advice on how to get started!

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