Financing Your Advanced Degree:
Top Tips for Finding the Funds You Need

Written by Judy Tierney & Mary Thorsby

It doesn’t take an advanced degree to know that earning your master’s or doctorate can be expensive! For many graduate students, cost is among many—if not the most important—factors in their decision to pursue higher education.

Do you worry that tuition, books and fees are simply out of reach? With some research and dedicated effort, you’ll find a variety of financial aid resources and opportunities that can help cover the costs of your advanced degree.

And remember: You’re not alone. In general, graduate students borrow at least two-thirds of what they need to pay for their education. What matters most is that you’re confident you’ve picked the right educational institution that will meet your needs and help you achieve your full potential personally and professionally.

Many scholarships and grants are available—you just need to know where to apply. Here are a few tips and resources to get you started.

Federal and State Financial Aid

Millions of U.S. citizens and eligible noncitizens find financial help from the U.S. Department of Education. Various grant, loan and work-study options are outlined in the Federal Aid for Graduate or Professional Students brochure.

You’ll need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—commonly referred to as a FAFSA. The process opens every year on Oct. 1 for the following year. The sooner you complete and file your FAFSA, the better your chance of securing any funding that’s available on a first-come, first-served basis. The form takes about an hour to fill out.

You may want to use the Federal Student Aid Forecaster to get an idea of how much federal aid you can expect.

You can also find which particular types of financial and grant assistance your particular state offers. Find your state on this Department of Education map for more details.

If you are not a U.S. citizen or an eligible noncitizen, you are not eligible for federal student aid. Don’t despair! Many state agencies, schools and even some scholarships will consider you for non-federal aid.

Company Tuition Assistance Programs

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), more than half of all companies offer some form of tuition assistance for employees seeking a graduate degree. These programs are traditionally offered by more well-established businesses, but even if you work for a start-up or a smaller organization, it’s worth finding out what your employer may provide. It’s possible that your individual manager may have the authority to extend some type of benefit.

More recently, some employers have started to assist team members in paying off previous student debt. Talk about a perk! So be sure to check with your human resources department and tap into whatever programs your company offers.

Companies spend millions of dollars to attract and keep their best talent. Hey! That’s you!


A common misperception is that scholarships are only available to the best and brightest students. The truth is, scholarships are out there for just about anyone. Yet millions of scholarship dollars go untouched simply because people don’t know about them.

Websites such as can help you find opportunities tailored to almost any type of student, including specific scholarships for women, minorities or students pursuing specific areas of study. There’s even a link and tips to help you find scholarships from businesses and associations in your own city or town.

From time to time, Northcentral University offers grant and scholarship opportunities to provide new and returning students with extra financial support. And we occasionally post information regarding third-party scholarships as we hear about them.

Here are just a few more scholarship search tools to help in your hunt. Go get ’em!

Fellowships and Grants

Traditionally given to graduate and post-graduate students, fellowships are awarded by universities, companies and other organizations to promote advancement in their field of interest. Fellowships are generally merit-based and can be created for various activities such as advanced research, training or program development.

While these highly competitive and coveted financial awards provide funding for a certain amount of time, they often require an internship or other service commitment.

Private Student Loans

If your search for “free” money to help fund your degree falls short, any number of banks and private lenders offer student loans—many with no application fee. And with good credit, you may be able to secure a low interest rate.

Family, Friends and Your Own Piggy Bank

It’s not unusual to receive at least some support from family and friends. Be sure to say thank you as often as you can—and remember them after graduation, especially if your advanced degree leads you to all sorts of fame and fortune.

Don’t be afraid to dip into your own piggy bank, as well. You are your own best investment. Just leave enough in your wallet for those late-night pizzas to fuel you through yet another round of dissertation edits!

Pro Tips

Remember, the earlier you apply for any financial aid, the better your chance of landing the amount you need. And, as you go through your master’s or doctoral program, continue to keep an eye and ear out for programs for additional funding opportunities you may have missed along the way.