Paying for Graduate School

You have a variety of financial aid options available as a graduate student. These options fall into two general categories: loans that must be repaid and "free" money. If eligible, you can receive more than one type of aid, and many students finance their education with a combination of funding sources.

Below are steps you can take to finance your graduate education.

1.  Look for the "free" money first.

What is "free" money? Unlike loans, "free" money in the form of scholarships, fellowships, grants, assistantships, and college work-study does not have to be repaid. In order to use as little of your own money as possible, you should actively seek as much free money as possible. Free money is available both from Sul Ross and from external sources.

  • Scholarships, Fellowships, and Grants

The terms scholarship, fellowship, and grant are often used interchangeably; however, there are some distinctions between the three. A scholarship typically refers to financial assistance for educational purposes. A fellowship is typically financial support given to an individual in a particular field to support a project that has a specific beginning and end date. A grant is money given in exchange for a purpose or project of any kind.


Scholarships are typically given to students to help fund their higher education. Often, they are awarded to students based on academic excellence and/or talent. Additionally, students may receive scholarships based on other factors, such as ethnic background, field of study, or financial need. Scholarships vary in their amounts and the number of years given. For example, scholarship recipients can receive a one time payment or receive aid annually for a certain number of years (Ex/ $1000 scholarship vs. $5000 per year for four years). Scholarships can come from a variety of sources, including colleges and universities, professional organizations and companies.


Fellowships are typically given to students and scholars to pursue an independent project or field of study. Fellowships often pay a stipend plus living expenses to the recipient, and in many cases they cover the costs of the pursuit of a postgraduate degree. Like many scholarships, they are usually based on a combination of need and merit, and may be tied to a particular academic institution or program. Fellowships are awarded by private organizations, institutions, or through the government.


There are many different types of grants that are available to individuals, students, nonprofit organizations and businesses and are typically given out for a particular purpose or project. The federal government has 26 grant-making agencies that fund everything from wildlife conservation to public housing. Usually government grants are given to students with need, such as having a low household income. However, government grants require students to maintain a specific GPA throughout their academic career in order to continue to receive aid. In graduate school, grants can be used toward, travel, research, experiments, or projects.

  • Assistantships

An assistantship is financial assistance provided to students through part-time academic employment. Assistants are paid a small stipend in exchange for teaching or research tasks they perform for a faculty member, the department, or the college.

  • College Work-Study

The college work-study program provides part time jobs to eligible students with financial need. Eligibility is determined by data obtained from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the award is considered part of your total financial aid package. 

Where's the Money?

Now that you know what you're looking for, here's information on where to find it.

2. Look for a campus job.

If an assistantship or work-study position is not available to you, consider other on-campus student jobs. Visit the Career Services website for a complete listing of student jobs, application instructions, and application forms.

3. Ask your employer if they offer tuition assistance.

Many employers sponsor tuition assistance programs. In a tuition assistance program, an employer pays all or part of an employee's cost to attend college or university classes. If you are unsure if your company offers tuition assistance, contact the human resources department.

4. Apply for student loans as a last resort.

Few students can afford to pay for college without some form of education financing. Federal loans available to graduate students include Stafford Loans and Plus Loans. You must complete the FAFSA each year in order to determine the type and amount of loan you are eligible for. Private student loans are also available to graduate students but are a less desirable option because interest rates are usually much higher. See a financial aid adviser in the Office of Financial Aid for more information about student loans.

Since loans must be repaid, it is important to make smart borrowing decisions now. For smart borrowing advice, visit our financial literacy page.

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