Graduate School and Graduate Funding
As you begin thinking about graduate study you need to carefully consider your reasons for wanting to attend graduate school. Graduate school is a significant academic challenge as well as a major financial commitment. Selecting a graduate school isn't going to be like applying to undergraduate colleges. You must have a clear idea of the course of study you want to pursue. At the graduate level you are looking for a particular department, or even a program within a department. In many cases, students select a graduate program because of one or two professors at the institution who conduct research in a specialized field. There are close to 2,000 institutions in the United States that offer graduate degrees -- your task, through careful research, is to find the programs that match your academic background, interests, professional goals and personal preferences.
Start with the faculty members you know here at Binghamton. They're the experts in the field and are an invaluable source of information. Also, if there are graduate students you know in your intended field of study, ask their advice. Just a few years ago they were looking for graduate schools themselves.
Consult the general guides, such as Peterson's, and rankings, like US News, (see the following list for some good places to start). Start to check out the websites of departments that interest you. As you begin to narrow down your list, contact the Graduate Director or Chairperson of the department if you have specific questions. If at all possible, visit the department. Talk to faculty and graduate students there, sit in on a class (if possible). If you can't visit, ask if there are graduate students you can speak with by phone or email.
You need to find a department that offers a degree program that matches your academic interests and will help you to achieve your goals. But you also need to consider other factors. You will be spending the next few years of your life there, so try to determine if this is a place where you would be comfortable. There are many questions to ask about the department, the university, the surrounding community; some will be of importance to you -- others will not.
For example --
- Is the program large or small?
- Is there a highly competitive spirit among the graduate students or a more cooperative one?
- Are faculty mentors accessible?
- What are the research opportunities and facilities like?
- What's the setting of the university -- city/suburb/more rural? How far is it from home?
- Is it in Florida (and you don't like hot weather) or in Michigan (and you don't like snow)?
- What's the gender, racial, ethnic, religious mix?
- What's the cost of living?
- Is there affordable housing?
A number of factors, academic as well as more quality of life issues, should guide your selection.
Funding Your Graduate Education
After the academic issues are addressed, you need to consider how you will pay for your graduate education. Most graduate students receive some financial support during their graduate school years, but most college seniors applying for graduate school lack sufficient information on how to secure funding to pay for their studies. The following information provides a brief overview of the options available to fund your Masters or Doctoral degree in most fields of study. Funding opportunities for students attending medical or law school differ from those presented here (consult with the pre-health or pre-law advisor and the schools you are interested in attending). Information on funding opportunities for medical school is available at http://www.binghamton.edu/scholarships/funding-opportunities/pre-health.html. Information on funding opportunities for law school is available at http://www.binghamton.edu/scholarships/funding-opportunities/pre-law.html.
The primary source of funding for students pursuing a Masters or Doctoral degree is the graduate department or the university you plan to attend. Over half of all graduate students who receive funding do so through the individual academic department or university. There is usually a space on the graduate school application to indicate interest in any type of financial aid the university offers. Make sure you indicate your interest. Tell your references you are applying for funding so they can comment on your qualifications in their letters. This funding comes in a variety of forms and is primarily merit-based, rather than need-based. The types of funding discussed below are not loans; you do not need to pay them back.
Types of Funding
Tuition Waivers/Tuition Scholarships
Most universities offer tuition waivers or tuition scholarships (they're the same) which cover all or a significant portion of tuition costs. Typically, you apply by completing a special section on the regular graduate school application.
A form of financial support awarded by the academic department attended for graduate study. As with tuition waivers, you usually indicate your interest in them on the graduate school application. Assistantship recipients typically receive a monthly or biweekly stipend and also receive a tuition waiver. Most departments have a number of these available and often offer multi-year packages. If you are initially offered a year of support, ask about a multi-year commitment; some institutions will offer up to a five-year package.
Stipend amounts vary widely by discipline and by geographic area across the country. For information on what to expect in your field, speak with the Undergraduate and Graduate Director and the graduate students in your department.
There may be a variety of assistantships within a department or only one type. The title and duties assigned can vary; make sure the offer letter you receive from the graduate department clearly spells out what is expected of you (including the number of hours you are expected to commit).
Types of Assistantships
- Teaching Assistantships (TAs) - provide the opportunity to assist professors in their teaching duties. You could be assigned the responsibility of running discussion sections of a large lecture course, grading exams and papers, and conducting review sessions. Advanced graduate students may teach their own course.
- Research Assistantships (RAs) - provide an opportunity to assist professors in pursuing their research. Responsibilities could include such things as, running experiments or laboratories, library research, or analyzing data.
- Graduate Assistants (GAs) - provide an opportunity to assist the department or an individual faculty member in a variety of tasks, from administrative to research.
Universities occasionally provide summer support when classes are not in session. Usually the student is expected to be working on a research project or independent study over the summer months.
The federal work-study program subsidizes part-time positions for graduate students to work on campus in an administrative office or the library. To apply for this need-based program you must submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). If you are interested in work-study, speak with the graduate department at the university of interest to you.
These are part-time positions usually found in a number of offices throughout a university. Interns can work in any area from Admissions or the Registrar to Advising Offices. You need to check with the graduate schools you are interested in for additional information.
Many universities offer fellowships or scholarships which carry a tuition waiver and stipend but do not require the student to perform any duties in return. In addition to university resources, numerous national and regional fellowships/scholarships fund graduate studies in a variety of disciplines. The Graduate Office or the financial aid office at the graduate institution will have information on any they offer.
You should check out the information on fellowships/ scholarships for graduate study at:
Early in the process find out DEADLINES and meet them. You may need to take one or more standardized tests, like the GRE. You will definitely need to request letters of recommendation and carefully prepare your personal statement. Allow time for rewrites and careful preparation of the application (spell-check and grammar-check). These things must be done in a timely manner so you and the faculty members writing the recommendations can meet the DEADLINES.
Take the time to carefully research graduate schools. There are many resources to assist you as you make this important decision. Some good places to start your research on graduate schools:
- The best place is with the Binghamton faculty who are in your field, and also graduate students in your department.
- http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools (US News rankings)
- http://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools.aspx (Peterson’s Guide to Graduate Study)
- http://www.princetonreview.com/graduate-school.aspx (Princeton Review)