Making a decision to enter higher education is a huge step especially for people with particular responsibilities or those who want to be independent and pay their own studies.
Regarding studies one of the most common issues that comes back is the funding. With many countries still seeing rising tuition fees, alongside cuts to government-funded financial aid, obtaining sufficient funding and managing debt are often the biggest obstacles facing students who wish to pursue further education.
To start with, the cost of graduate study can be overwhelming simply to work out. Depending on the location and your circumstances, you may need to account for some or all of the following: tuition fees, semester fees, student services fees, course material expenses, food, travel, accommodation, visa and health insurance costs, childcare and personal expenses. For some, there’s also the “opportunity cost” to calculate, meaning the cost of time spent taking a career break.
The good news? While costs are in many cases higher than ever, leading universities and national governments are focusing on ways to increase funding opportunities and their accessibility.
Sources of graduate funding
It is advisable to start looking for graduate funding opportunities while or even before applying to universities, as the two processes often require very similar applications. In general, applications for funding need to be submitted by spring if you’re starting study in the fall of the same year.
Fortunately, there are many types of funding available for graduate students: merit-based, need-based, need-blind, university-specific, course-specific, subject-specific, career-specific, demographic-specific, country-specific, ability-specific and non-specific… The following is a breakdown of the most common types of graduate funding available around the world.
Home- and host-country governments
The first places to check for funding opportunities are the Ministry/Department of Education in your home and host countries. International students may not be eligible for all government funding schemes in the host country, so it’s important to thoroughly check opportunities in your home country first. Globally, typical government-funded aid includes sponsorships, loans, grants, scholarships and bursaries, each with distinct rules regarding eligibility, deadlines, application procedures and amount of funding awarded.
Universities and higher education institutions
Many universities and other HEIs offer some sort of financial aid for local students, be it fellowships, scholarships, grants, awards or bursaries, distributed on the basis of need, academic merit or both, payment facilities, discounts. Funding information is usually available online – check the scholarship section of the university website. Apply to as many schemes as possible, but remember to check the criteria carefully to ensure you fit the requirements. While highlighting your strengths and any exceptional achievements are a given, those applying for graduate study should also draw attention to any research projects, academic events, papers or conferences to which they have contributed, as well as discussing future research plans.
Scholarships are prestigious, highly coveted and usually the hardest form of financial aid to secure. They don’t need to be repaid and cover the full or partial costs of tuition, sometimes along with a portion of living costs. Scholarships are usually based solely on academic merit, although there are also many specialized scholarships which are targeted at students with certain backgrounds, interests, skills or ambitions.
Teaching and research assistantships OR Alternance
Assistantships provide funding for postgraduate students in exchange for time spent working in a teaching or research role. They may be funded by the university department or your supervisor’s research budget, or by an external funding body with vested interests in a particular field of development and institution. They are often required for PhD programs, and particularly common in STEM subjects, assistantships are cost-effective for the university and provide valuable teaching and/or research experience for the student.
Students with an assistantship are obliged to carry out specified teaching and/or research activities, stipulated in a contract. In return, you’ll typically receive a modest salary and/or a waiver of your tuition fees. Some universities may also provide funding for field trips and conference participation. When working in this capacity, make sure to remain within the constraints of your student visa, which may specify some employment restrictions.
Following a course in alternance is coming more common nowadays specially because you will be able to gain experience, have skills and study at the same time. While studying some companies ask you to sign a contract where you will work with them for the duration of your course, you will have a salary and they could help you in gaining experience in different fields. So you will work part time an study full time. That the perfect combination.
Charities, trusts, learned societies and special interest groups
Charities, trusts, learned societies and special interest groups often dedicate a portion of their budget to fund graduate studies. While some organizations target specific and niche demographics, many focus simply on students from lower income backgrounds, those experiencing particular financial difficulty, and/or those with demonstrable academic excellence. Usually awards are made for a year at a time, with renewal possible, and students can secure backing from multiple organizations.
When applying for funding, focus on anything that makes you particularly distinctive. Points to highlight include: the relevance and potential future applications of your research; any ways in which your interests and/or background align with those of the funding organization; any disadvantages or challenges you’ve faced, along with your drive to succeed and potential to do so.
If you’re starting your postgraduate studies after a period of work, you may be able to persuade your employer to sponsor your education either fully or partly. Most companies are supportive of staff training and development, and may even have a budget set aside for the personal and professional development (PPD) of their employees. Professionals requiring further education to become fully qualified include accountants, architects, engineers, social workers, lawyers and teachers.
Employers will be more receptive to your request if you show your aim is to improve your ability in the workplace, advance your career prospects, and/or aid your long-term development within the company, rather than simply indulging your own academic or personal interests. If you do use this route, you may need to sign an agreement which will tie you to the company for a specified period after graduation (usually one to two years).
Student and professional development loans
Dedicated student loans typically have lower repayment rates than regular loans., banks usually concentrate on providing student loans mainly at undergraduate level. The loan funds up to two years of study, covers course fees and some living costs, and has more flexible repayment terms than a regular bank loan.
If you intend to use a student job to supplement your finances, remember that each country has its own rules about whether, where and how international students can work. Typical restrictions include limited working hours during term-time, and rules about whether you can work off-campus or need to stick to jobs within the university. Some student jobs such as translator, modelling for an agency or radio advert, if you are good in art, try to sell you drawings, or look for different short term work, internship in different companies.
You might also consider enrolling for part-time study, which will mean your tuition fees are spread out over a longer period, while you have more time to work alongside your course commitments. If this is your plan, make sure you have a realistic balance between work and studies. If you do find yourself struggling to cope, your university’s student support team may be able to direct you towards funding opportunities that have opened up since the commencement of the academic year, or at the very least, help you find a better balance or schedule.