How to Find Financial Aid for PhD Programs

Funding Options

Finding financial aid for a PhD degree differs greatly compared to working towards undergraduate degrees. On one hand, since fewer people pursue PhD’s, there are often a number of resources one can go after to finance their final degree. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as just filling out the FAFSA, although this form is still required. The plus side though is there are plenty of financial aid opportunities if you’re willing to dig for them, especially for those willing to undertake something as impressive as a PhD.

Financial Aid Through School Programs

Typically, for many school-based awards, no application is needed and instead merit alone determines the recipients. It’s important for you to contact the department office of your school’s program. You then must complete all the paperwork that’s required to help with funding. It’s important to apply early, because often once the money runs out there is no longer an opportunity to receive funding. It’s also good to apply to schools with strong programs in your area, as these schools will receive more outside grant funding for your specialty most times.

Some schools hire PhD candidates to work as tutors or teacher assistants. These opportunities provide students with hands-on experience as well as a platform to develop new skills. Check with an admissions counselor to find out if your school of interest offers part-time employment for PhD students. It’s safe to say that most PhD candidates will take this path. Coming into a PhD program almost always means you’ve had 6 years of schooling (or the equivalent), so many of them are aptly prepared to work with undergraduate students. Not only does this have financial incentive, but it helps to work on refining the basics of your field, which will ultimately make you better equipped for intense PhD work as you get further along in your career. It also helps to build worthwhile relationships with students, other professors, and potential colleagues.

Financial Aid Through Outside Organizations

In addition to your school programs, there are outside organizations who offer funding to PhD candidates. Often these are federal programs or foundations. Large corporations also send research money to specific schools. Professional associations also offer scholarship programs. For example, if you’re an educator, many professional associations offer their members scholarship opportunities that help pay for tuition, supplies, and other student-related expenses. Some schools offer what’s called a stipend. A stipend is provided to cover living expenses while in school. In return, the student works for the college of university while taking classes and earning a degree.

Ask for a current list of funded schools by writing to the Grants Management Branch of any private or government agency. Also, write to the trade associations that represent your field of interest, for example, the American Bar Association if you’re applying for law school. Another good place to look for funding is through organizations that serve your ancestry, your nationality, or your religious affiliation.

The best way to find out about funding opportunities is to schedule an appointment with a financial aid counselor. A knowledgeable staff member can help you navigate the many resources available to you.

Financial Aid in the Form of Federal Loans

The majority of graduate students receive financial aid from the federal government through loans, grants, federal work-study, and education tax credits and deductions. Some loans offered by the government include:

  • Federal Stafford Loans: There are two types of Stafford Loans. The Federal Direct Student Loan Program (FDSLP) provides funds directly to you as a student, usually by way of the college or university the student attends. The second is the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) in which private lenders provide government-sponsored, low-interest loans.
  • Federal Perkins Loans: This is federal money given to colleges and universities to distribute to students who demonstrate financial need. The school you attend is the lender, and you will repay any monies borrowed directly to the school.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that many graduate students will qualify for the Lifetime Learning Tax Credit, which can be used to subtract $2000 annually from their tax bill. The credit covers twenty percent of tuition up to $10,000, which is how a $2000 cap is reached. The bottom line is that students are going to have to get very creative in how school will be paid for. Many times, organizations will not be forthright in illustrating the ways that students can receive credits, which is very frustrating. Ultimately, a significant amount of debt will be taken on while pursuing a PhD program, so it’s also crucial to understand if it’s really an endeavor one wishes to embark on.

What should I look for in a special education graduate program?

A graduate program in special education is designed to prepare students for leadership and administrative positions. Many schools offer a PhD in special education, but each school is unique in its approach to teaching and learning. The degree program you choose should be accreddited, should prepare you for licensure and to pass all required exams, and ought to provide opportunities for specialization in areas that interest you.

The following schools and programs are some of those which meet these requirements:

SchoolPrograms
Northcentral University
Northcentral University

Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA
Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University

Accreditation
  • HLC
Capella University
Capella University

Accreditation
  • HLC
University of Southern California
University of Southern California

Accreditation
  • WASC

See all schools that offer Special Education degrees...

Combining Choices and Finding a Balance

If you’re an individual who is driven enough to want to pursue a PhD, you should be fairly confident in your ability to obtain at least modest endowments to help offset the exorbitant cost of college. Many individuals are able to finish their PhD with only ten to twenty thousand dollars in debt, which is fairly reasonable considering the attractive salaries for these professionals. Don’t count on just one of the options above to support a PhD student in full- many people are forced to combine methods to finance their degree. While you may qualify for some tax credits, you’ll likely need to teach undergraduate classes and work with outside organizations to an extent as well. Professors and administrators alike understand the daunting task that pursuing a PhD is and they’re usually very accommodating with directing you towards a path of success. Additionally, it’s okay to take on some debt. If you’re an individual who is spending a significant portion of your life going after a PhD, you’re probably not motivated with money. Not to say that bills don’t stress people out, but when you’re not motivated by money, you’re less affected by not having as much. Focus on your passion and avenues to pay for school will present themselves.

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