6 Considerations for Finding Funding During COVID-19
In a previous article
, I stated that funding is one of the biggest factors in determining what kind of financial decisions you make as a student, whether you are an undergraduate or graduate student. Now that our world is taking a huge economic hit from COVID-19, it's important to reconsider some of the factors and approaches to procuring funding. Previously, I covered how using different forms of funding such as federal student loans, employment, savings, and assistance from family members are great ways to fund your degree in addition to applying for fellowships, assistantships, scholarships, and grants.
This article has been updated to discuss how to go about finding funding during a pandemic with a focus on funding for graduate school as financial aid options through FAFSA are often more limited for graduate students.
As a multi-fellowship recipient for several years, I continue to search and apply for various funding opportunities as long as I am enrolled in my doctoral program.
All graduate students are still required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), whether they are applying for other types of funding or not. So, to reduce accumulating high amounts of federal and other types of debt, I've continued to apply for fellowships and assistantships to help fund my degree.
Although it is extremely difficult to plan ahead right now, it is important to reevaluate short-term and long-term goals to examine their possibility in terms of COVID-19 limitations, especially funding your degree program. You can get started setting short and long-term goals with our SMART Goals Worksheet
Possible limitations for funding due to COVID-19 include:
- Limited funding availability
- More competitive opportunities
- Virtual learning not covered by waivers?
- Travel limitations for International programs
Planning ahead with specific goals can help you overcome additional obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic presents for finding funding for your education.
Stay in touch with your university's financial-aid office or refer to their website, and other funding sources, such as Federal Student Aid, for student loan related updates. As you research possible funding opportunities during the pandemic, be sure to confirm if applications will be open for the year you are interested in, because the current pandemic could've affected funding budgets and future timelines.
During this pandemic, the CARES Act funding provided additional funding for schools to use as they see fit in Spring. Some of these funds may or may not have carried over into the summer or this fall. However, the money is only available until it runs out, so you should not rely on funding through the CARES Act to continue after it has been distributed.
Reach Out to Valuable Resources
Contacting the right funding entities is important for addressing your funding needs and questions. Aside from your university's financial-aid office(s) and the federal student loan website, you can also consider outside sources like lenders, private and public organizations. We've compiled a list of example resources that may help you get started.
University of Illinois System
Create a Support System
You may already have a support system, but, if you don't, consider reaching out to few people that can support you through this process. Applying for funding isn't always easy and can be mentally taxing when you don't get the funding you wanted or if your plans change. A support system can be extremely helpful during those times you need encouragement during any step of the funding search process.
As I have stated before, your support system should also be a space for you to celebrate when you do receive good news, and not only when things do not go as planned.
Continue the Search Even When You Receive Funding
As I mentioned earlier, I am still applying for funding throughout my doctoral program. Unless your financial aid office has a specific limit on how much internal and external funding you can accumulate, there's no harm in continuing to apply.
Internal funding is any funding that is coming from within your program of study or University, and external funding is any funding you receive from outside sources such as state funding, public and private organizations, donors, etc.
Do not limit yourself, because you may be allowed to accumulate multiple forms of funding. And, as those familiar with investing best practices know, diversifying your income is a great way to protect against potential losses of funding.
Rate Funding Accordingly
If you are just applying to graduate school, it's important to understand the difference between potential funding opportunities that your universities may offer you.
For example, you have to understand the difference between a fellowship and an assistantship. In addition, know the requirements to keep that particular form of funding. If you are already enrolled and looking for more funding, you can categorize and rate funding based on your values or needs, such as:
- Amount of award
- Length of funding or renewal opportunities
- Requirements to stay in good standing
- Application deadlines
- Taxability of funding sources
- Field or merit based
Keep Your Head Up
Finally, do not be discouraged if things do not pan out as you anticipated. Keep asking questions, doing research, and, most importantly, stay in good academic standing so that when an opportunity arises, you have the merit or whatever it takes to apply! Good luck and happy searching!