While financial assistance at the graduate level is not as prevalent as at the undergraduate level, there is aid available. Universities usually offer assistance based on two factors: need and merit.
The federal government has made applying for need-based aid fairly simply. You should visit www.fafsa.ed.gov and fill out the free application. This application will get you a very quick analysis of your eligibility for aid. One important thing to remember is to make sure you list all the schools to which you want to apply for aid. Each school will have a code for you to use to make sure they get your application. Fill out the FAFSA form …you never know what aid you will be eligible for.
What is merit-based assistance? This is very popular in graduate school and is based on previous academic/professional experiences, standardized test scores, and matching between your knowledge and the program’s needs. If this sounds vague, it is. Graduate schools will often use merit-based scholarships in varying and, in fact, completely different ways. Some schools have a magic number, others use such programs to attract specific types of students, and still others use it as a last minute way to meet target enrollment numbers. Fortunately, the latter is not very prevalent. A graduate school will not always tell you they have scholarships available. ALWAYS ask. What is the worst that could happen? They say no…big deal. Often times they will say “yes” or be able to refer you to other sources.
The new graduate admissions website at Mason has a great listing of places to look for external aid. There are many agencies, organizations, and sources of non-university or government-based aid which may be available. Check out those sites and get to work. Persistence definitely pays off and in this case, it can be pay-off with actual money!