The Goal for Graduate School

The reasonable goal is to complete your graduate program without incurring any debt or paying significant out-of-pocket expenses. The forms of financial assistance that make this goal possible are Assistantships and Fellowships/Scholarships.

See the Law School Admission Information and Medical School Admission Information for financial aid information specific to law school and medical school.

Assistantships (available from many graduate school programs, excluding law and medicine)

Assistantships generally come in three forms: teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and general graduate assistantships. A teaching assistantship is an opportunity to assist with teaching an introductory-level undergraduate course, usually in the discipline that you are earning a master’s or doctoral degree. “Payment” for a graduate student’s labor in a teaching assistantship usually involves full or partial waiver of tuition for graduate courses plus a stipend, ranging from perhaps $5,000 to $18,000 for the year. If you are earning a master’s degree the teaching assistantship may involve only assisting the undergraduate professor. If you are earning a doctoral degree, you may actually assume full teaching responsibilities for an undergraduate course by the second or third year of your graduate studies. A research assistantship is an opportunity to assist a graduate school professor with his/her research. The same “payment” for services applies: full or partial tuition waiver plus a stipend. A general graduate assistantship is an opportunity to work in administrative offices (such as the career center, library, or financial aid office) outside your graduate program for perhaps 20 hours each week. The responsibilities associated with a general graduate assistantship are professional in nature, since students who hold assistantships have bachelor’s degrees. Assistantships are competitive and are usually awarded by the academic department (rather than the financial aid office) on the basis of merit — meaning assistantships are not awarded to students on the basis of their financial need, but rather the strength of the academic background they showcase in the application process. Application for assistantships is handled differently at each school. Some graduate programs may award assistantships concurrently with awarding admission. Other graduate programs may ask applicants to submit a separate application to be considered for an assistantship. Carefully read the application materials from graduate schools to determine how they instruct students to apply for assistantships. If you cannot determine the application procedures after a thorough reading of the graduate program literature and website, you are encouraged to inquire directly with the chair of the graduate program via e-mail. The online Petersons Guide to Graduate Schools profiles usually indicate whether a graduate program has a history of offering assistantships, how many were offered in the previous year, and what dollar amount has been offered.


With respect to financial aid, a fellowship is usually an outright grant of a full or partial tuition waiver plus an annual stipend given to students without expectation for labor associated with the assistantships. Fellowships are highly competitive. Inquire with the graduate departments to learn about fellowships they offer and the application processes. You may also consult the Chronicle Financial Aid Guide available at the Center for Student Development for on-site use to learn more about fellowships/scholarships that are not school specific.

Related Links: