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The difference between grants and fellowships for graduate students

Grants for graduate school are like graduate school scholarships in that you don’t have to pay them back. If you withdraw from school, you may have to refund part or all the grant, so know the individual grant’s rules. While scholarships are often merit-based, grants are need-based and can relate to your prospective field.

Fellowships for graduate students generally relate to a short-term opportunity to study or conduct research in a specific field. Awarded for academic excellence, they can include an internship or other service commitment and can pay for living expenses, or offer a stipend. Fellowship opportunities can be found in most graduate fields.

Types of graduate school grants

Grants are most often offered by the federal government, state government, an individual school, or a private organization.

Federal grants for graduate students

Pell Grants are generally for undergraduate students only. However, there are several federal programs that offer money to graduate students. Federal grants are generally need-based, but they can also be available for a student who is studying to fill a special need or discipline.1

  • TEACH Grants can be awarded to graduate students taking coursework to become teachers in a high-need field in a school with low-income students. Learn more about TEACH Grants.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants are available to students with a parent who was killed in the military service after 9/11. You’ll need to submit a FAFSA to be eligible for this grant. Learn more about Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.
  • Fulbright Grants are sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. They’re used to promote the exchange of ideas across countries. This grant is available to undergraduate or graduate students to help you continue your international studies. Learn more about Fulbright Grants.

State grants for graduate students

There’s no overall standard for how states distribute their grant money. Some are need-based, while others earmark their grants for students studying specific areas (like the STEM fields).

School grants for graduate students

These grants are given by graduate schools for a variety of reasons: to encourage diversity, to support research in specific fields, or to help graduate students with a financial need afford their program. Graduate schools can have money from the federal government or from alumni bequests.

Organization and corporate grants for graduate students

Many organizations have created grants to help graduates pursue an education in the fields they support. For instance, the American Chemical Society provides research grants to graduate students in the chemical sciences.

How to apply for graduate school grants

  • For federal and state grants, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You’ll be notified about any grant money when you receive your financial aid package from your school. You may need to be a legal resident of the state from which you’re looking for graduate school grants.
  • For school-specific grants, start with your school’s financial aid office.
  • For organization-specific grants, start with your field’s national professional association or check with your department head or advisor.

Bonus tip: Make sure to read and understand all the criteria for your graduate school grant.

Fellowships for graduate students

Awarded for academic excellence, graduate fellowships can be found in many fields and often include an internship or other service commitment. This gives you the chance to gain professional experience or pursue academic research in your field.

  • Many graduate fellowship programs provide a stipend or living allowance.
  • Housing assistance may also be available.
  • You may not have to work on campus.

Benefits of a graduate student fellowship

A primary benefit of a graduate fellowship is the exposure to research and experts in your field. As a graduate fellow, you’re often given significant responsibility, so you’re able to gain experience more quickly than you would in an entry-level position.

Graduate student fellowships can be highly competitive. They can also involve an extensive application process that includes nominations, interviews, and presentations. Fellowship programs look for highly motivated individuals with demonstrated leadership, knowledge, and drive. Requirements can vary by field and by school.

Where to find graduate fellowships

To locate fellowships in your field, start with your program chair and your advisor.

Be sure to reach out to related professional associations and other nonprofit research organizations that support your area of study. Some, like the Smithsonian and the Washington Center, offer graduate fellowship and research opportunities.

 This information was gathered on July 3, 2017, from,, and