Funding is one of the biggest factors in determining what kind of financial decisions you make as a graduate student. Taking on federal student loans, using your employment to fund your degree, using your savings, getting help from family members, etc. We all want to make decisions that will benefit us most--and while the above are all good options depending on your individual situation, nothing beats “free money” like fellowships, assistantships, grants and scholarships.
As a former fourth time Foreign Language and Areas Studies (FLAS) Fellowship recipient, current Illinois Distinguished Fellow, and Graduate Assistant, I have searched and applied for many funding opportunities during my college career. It is a long but worthy process.
Below are six tips on how to find and secure funding.
First, find out when you will need funding because that helps you narrow down application opening and closing dates. Once you make note of these applications’ deadlines, rate them according to what best aligns with your research interests.
Stay up to Date
Staying up to date on information such as your resume, curriculum vitae, and program progress will allow you to have a better idea of what you qualify for but will also make the application process smoother. For example, your recommenders may ask you for updated information in order to write you a strong recommendation letter that reflects your accomplishments.
Reach Out to Valuable Resources
Valuable resources could be previous or current recipients of the funding opportunity that you are interested in, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Graduate College Fellowship office and database, Career Center, Writer’s Workshop, etc. All these are examples of resources that can help you compose a competitive application package.
Create a Support System
Your support system in this process is the group of individuals that will provide you with letters of recommendation, review your work before submission, celebrate with you when you receive good news and be there when things do not go as planned. It is important to be prepared for acceptances or denials in this process.
Continue the Search Even When You Receive Funding
It is no secret that every funding opportunity has its own eligibility criteria, application and qualification requirements, restrictions, etc.
You can read more about seeking funding from the Graduate College in the article, Grad School 101–Funding Graduate School.
It is a great idea to keep searching even after you receive funding, because you may qualify for more than one funding opportunity at a time, there is a chance that you find an even more fitting opportunity and sometimes you are allowed to accumulate funding from different streams.
Rate Funding Accordingly
When it comes to funding, fellowships are top rated, because they are not considered employment domestically and withholding will not occur through the University. However, some portions of the funds may be required to be reported to the IRS. More information on Fellowships and other types of funding can be found on the IRS Publication No. 421 page and University of Illinois System Student Money Management Center's website.
For further questions on this topic or other financial education services, reach out to the Student Money Management Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.