How to receive $400,000 in Graduate School Scholarships, Fellowships and Other Funding

We know that graduate school is expensive.  Over the course of 8-15 years a student has to cover basic living expenses as well as 3 to 4 computers, supporting hardware, research equipment, travel to conferences, books, etc.  Fortunately, there are scholarships and fellowships available to the students.

Think of these as institutional investments into future scholars.  I took a look at my fellowships and scholarships since I first entered graduate school and was rather surprised (note, I did take a break after my masters degree, so the lengthy time scale is misleading).

The first chart is of my finding over time.  For awards that stretched over two years, such as 2011-2012, I plotted them to the first year.

The larger amounts are national fellowships while the smaller amounts are general travel or research funds.  Combined, these provided a good basis for support.  You might notice the chart above seems to have a gap from 2002 to 2005.  During this period I taught undergraduate courses. (I may chart out how much I made teaching, in another post.)

The next chart shows funding awarded by type – national fellowships such as National Science Foundation, University specific awards, and scholarships and other awards.  This is pretty interesting, too, as it shows that if you apply to a wide variety of sources you will receive funding, academic or otherwise.

Looking at these chars a reader might wonder (1) why I am in debt, and (2) how can I receive this level of funding?  First, my debt is from my undergraduate education at a private institution and one year of graduate school.  In contrast to other students my debt is not that bad, but I consider any debt as a terrible cloud.
So how can you receive this level of funding?  Here are a few suggestions:
  • Learn how to search for funding.  All universities have access to an assortment of databases for scholarships, and if you ask your department secretary or Deans office they will asset you.
  • Work on awards regularly.  I suggest setting at least three hours every week to search and apply for funding.  If you keep at it you will receive at least 1 in 5, at least accruing to my 1 in 5 Rule.  With practice the ratio will improve.
  • Ask professors and students to review at your applications.  They will give essential feedback.  Revise applications as as possible after your receive funding.
  • Get on review panels at your university, then nationally.  When you review awards, even the small $500 student awards, you learn what works and what fails.
  • Apply to big awards early in your academic career, if only for the feedback.  NSF, NIH, CDC, etc. all offer pre-doctoral fellowships.  It easily takes 4 months to put an application together and the experience builds confidence.  If you win an award, congratulations.  If you don’t win you will at least receive specific feedback for your award. Make corrections and apply to the same award the following year.
  • Apply for the small stuff.  $1000 for a conference, if awarded yearly, adds up to a considerable sum… plus you can practice the pros you will use in the big awards.
With these steps in mind you are sure to start receiving your own funding for graduate school.  Do you have tips that work?