You will discover that there are many types of aid, ranging from grants and fellowships to teaching assistantships and loans. Given all the aid possibilities that are available, you are bound to find a package that is right for you.
Most fellowships provide for tuition and a stipend. Many cover a student's full academic career, but some must be renewed each year. Most fellowship programs are highly competitive and are designed to attract students with excellent academic records. Fellowships are often limited to doctoral and post doctoral students, though there are some that specifically target Master's level students in particular fields. "Portable fellowships" are offered by independent donors or organizations and can be used at any university. You can receive information about these types of scholarships and fellowships in BHC 107. Institutional fellowships are awarded through specific university programs. The financial aid offices of the schools to which you are applying can give you information on any available institutional fellowships.
Many graduate students, especially after their first year, become teaching or research assistants. Through this arrangement, teaching assistants help professors by leading seminar sections, reading papers, and meeting with undergraduates. Research assistants, common in the sciences, oversee laboratories and assist professors on projects. Both arrangements allow students to earn money while gaining experience in their field. Some universities also reduce tuition for students working as assistants. You can generally get information about assistantships from the departments to which you are applying.
Know Who Handles the Financial Aid
On the graduate level, the administration of aid is often handled by the department rather than by the university, so you will want to find out as soon as possible who in charge of financial aid. What is even more confusing is that some schools will not let you apply for aid unless you have been admitted, whereas others require you to apply for aid at the same time that you apply for admission. Again, it is just a matter of being organized and getting information as early aspossible.
Get Started Early
Competition, especially for popular fellowships and assistantships, is often fierce, so it is important to research the possibilities carefully and apply early. As soon as you have made the decision to go to graduate school, even before you know which schools you will be applying to, you can begin to collect information about sources of financial aid. As soon as you know where you will be applying, you should get information about aid sources from each school's financial aid office and from the individual departments.
You Won't Know Unless You Apply...
Even if you do not think you can qualify for financial aid, you should still explore all of the possibilities. Some types of aid are not based on your financial situation and may not require you to repay the money.