Financial Aid for Graduate School: Your Credit History Affect and Types of Aid

Mark Kantrowitz

July 09, 2012

Based on the 2007-08 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), about two fifths (41%) of graduate and professional students receive some form of grant aid, including graduate fellowships from the school or private sources, assistantships or employer tuition assistance. Graduate fellowships from the school are received by 12.3% of graduate and professional students, assistantships by 15.2%, employer tuition assistance by 20.9% and private fellowships by 3.7%.

Graduate students pursuing degrees in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) are more likely to get financial support than students pursuing non-STEM fields of study. For example, 43.6% of STEM graduate students receive assistantships, compared with 10.2% of non-STEM graduate students. About a fifth (22.4%) of STEM graduate students receive graduate fellowships from the school, compared with a tenth (11.1%) of non-STEM graduate students. STEM graduate students are almost twice as likely to receive private fellowships, 5.9% vs. 3.5%. About a fifth of both STEM and non-STEM graduate students receive employer tuition assistance.

Students in the arts and humanities often ask why there is more aid for graduate students in STEM fields. Both STEM and non-STEM fields both have intellectual value, but the STEM fields often add practical utility, which attracts funding from corporations and government agencies.

There is much less aid available for graduate students pursuing a terminal Master’s degree. For example, only 8.8% of Master’s degree students are supported by graduate fellowships from the school, compared with 27.1% of doctoral students and 25.0% of professional degree students. Similarly, 10.8% of Master’s degree students are supported by assistantships, compared with 47.0% of doctoral students and 8.3% of professional degree students. The main exception is with employer tuition assistance, where 25.1% of Master’s degree students are supported by their employers, compared with 11.8% of doctoral degree students and 6.1% of professional degree students. Employer tuition assistance is especially common among students in MBA programs, where 39.0% receive employer tuition assistance, compared with 21.9% of students in other Master’s degree programs.

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