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If you're thinking about going to graduate school but worried about how you'll pay for it, you should consider applying for fellowships. According to Best Value Schools, fellowships are "merit-based awards granted to full-time master's or doctoral students with high GPAs and career promise." Colleges and universities, federal government programs, and independent organizations offer a wide range of financial awards to fund graduate studies. While some awards are tied to individual schools, others are portable.

Here are some tips to help you find the fellowship that best fits your academic and career goals.

The Search

The process of applying to graduate schools and qualifying for funding can be lengthy. But the sooner you get started, the more options you're likely to have. If you're considering a graduate degree and are still an undergraduate student, set up some time to talk to a professor, a department dean, or a counselor in the graduate school placement office. They may have some information and ideas about funding sources.

Even before you start applying to graduate schools, do some research for graduate fellowships in your field of interest. Sites like Petersons, ProFellow, and GradSchools.com couple search-worthy listings with articles that offer advice for successfully navigating the application process. What you find may help you hone in on options that are both affordable and ideal for your academic needs.

Once you start sending out enrollment applications, graduate schools may alert you automatically to the internal and external fellowship programs they offer. If that doesn't happen, look for information on the schools' website or ask admissions officials what's available.

The Application

You can apply for fellowships as soon as you've been accepted into a graduate program. The process will probably include submitting your undergraduate transcript, letters of recommendation, and an essay or writing sample. Many fellowship programs also require an interview, where you'll have a chance to talk about how you hope your studies will advance your career goals and how you've demonstrated the kind of leadership skills that make you a good bet for success in the program.

Some colleges and universities permit graduate students to hold multiple graduate fellowships; however, they may reduce the amount of one award to offset the additional aid you receive. Other institutions don't allow more than one fellowship per student. Government agencies and independent organizations may also have rules prohibiting or restricting concurrent fellowships. Be sure to read the eligibility rules carefully so that you don't jeopardize your financial aid status. You should also consider how well you would be able to handle any work requirements that might come with the assistance like tutoring, teaching, or mentoring. You don't want to be so overextended that you won't be able to do well in your studies.

Choosing the right fellowship means taking several factors into consideration. You'll want to look at the duration of the award and whether or not it will cover the amount of time you need to complete your degree. What exactly does it cover — tuition, books, housing, meals? How close does it come to meeting your total financial need? Does it offer interesting opportunities for research, internships, or travel? Target the fellowship programs that match your own checklist of benefits.

A fellowship can relieve the financial strain of going to graduate school so that you can focus on studying hard and earning the credentials that will help your career take off.

Disclosures

This information and recommendations contained herein is compiled from sources deemed reliable, but is not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or is offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

By selecting any external link on www.Key.com, you will leave the KeyBank website and jump to an unaffiliated third party website that may offer a different privacy policy and level of security. The third party is responsible for website content and system availability. KeyBank does not offer, endorse, recommend, or guarantee any product or service available on that entity's website.

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