Professional Development and Events

Grad15: Funding for international graduate students

Grad15 international Funding
By Zach Reeves-Burton on May 11, 2020

In today’s Grad15 mini-webinar, RoniSue Lee and Tania Hernandez with the Graduate College’s International Initiatives team shared tips, strategies, and resources to help make international graduate students’ and researchers’ searches for funding more effective and productive. 

For many international graduate students and researchers, finding sources of funding – outside of teaching or research assistantships – can be challenging. Scholars studying on F-1 or J-1 visas (the majority of non-U.S. citizens studying in the U.S.) are generally ineligible for financial aid through federal programs, though exceptions exist for certain immigration statuses (i.e., Cuban-Haitian entrants, refugees, asylum grantees, etc.). Generally, international graduate students and researchers may also have a more limited selection of institutional fellowships for which they are eligible. Still, there are options to be found for those who are strategic, creative and persistent in their funding searches.

Tip 1: Never stop looking

There is no ‘season’ or time period to which you should be limiting your search for funding; rather, it’s important to search continually, as graduate scholarship awards are received throughout the year and new opportunities are always in development. 

Students should plan proactively, looking ahead one to three years and anticipating their future funding needs. To help keep track of opportunities, RoniSue and Tania suggest developing personal tracking tools (a spreadsheet and/or other documents) to organize scholarship opportunities and activities. Track all helpful details such as opening dates, deadlines, award details, and steps taken to apply.

Tip 2: Expand your search

When it comes to searching for funding, it’s important to be creative and thorough. Many awards are administered by small committees that don’t spend time or resources on advertising, making them harder to find. Don’t let your search engine (i.e., Chrome or Firefox) limit what you can find. It’s a good idea to clear your browser history and turn off any personalization settings to help ensure the browser algorithms do not limit your results according to your previous searches. By the same token, make sure to scroll past the first few pages of top results, as these are often sponsored links and paid content. It might take some digging to reach the less-obvious results you are looking for.

Get creative in your search parameters, too. Spend time intentionally brainstorming ways you may be connected to a wide range of organizations offering scholarships or grants. Some students make the mistake of limiting themselves to funding tied to academic discipline or focus. Many opportunities exist in relation to professional associations or organizations, or are based on ethnicity, citizenship, interests, religious affiliation, or hobbies – not just area of study.

Tip 3: It all adds up

Although it’s tempting to limit your funding search to high-dollar awards that may comfortably fund your entire semester or year, that approach is unrealistic and will likely be less productive. It is important to search for awards of varying types and sizes. A strong funding search strategy combines pursuing both larger and smaller funding opportunities.

Think of every funding opportunity – including very small ones – as building blocks. Larger awards (tuition assistance, living stipends, major research grants) and smaller opportunities (research project grants, conference travel grants) together can add up. This is another reason it’s important to develop a tracking sheet to organize funds you’ve applied for, will apply for, and have received.

Keep in mind, too, that every funding application, cover letter, or interview you complete will help you refine your skills, and every award you receive – even the smallest ones – will strengthen your academic and professional profile. Having multiple funding awards on your resume or CV shows that you have experiences and skills in funding acquisition that employers often value, and it also increases your chances of receiving future awards.

Tip 4: Know your terminology

Becoming familiar with common funding terminology can be very helpful. For example, know the differences between need-based and merit-based opportunities (if an award is both, look for an assessment equation or percentage of need vs. merit). Another example: know that the terms scholarship, fellowship, grant, and award are often used interchangeably. For research funding, the term grant is most common, but, for degree-related funding, there are no consistent rules determining which term will be used. Searches for degree-related funds should include all of these terms.  

Understanding key terms will reduce confusion and keep you from wasting time trying to understand which awards you’re eligible for. It will also help you demonstrate to funding source committees that you have invested research and time into your search – a favorable impression that may tip the funding committee in your favor.

Tip 5: Know your resources

As work through your funding strategy, make use of your resources. Your peers, academic advisor, faculty mentor, labmates, or coworkers may have overcome some of the same challenges you face. Faculty members may have served on funding committees and be able to offer advice on writing your funding proposal or personal statement. They may also know of additional funding sources among their colleagues and contacts, or be able to provide reference letters.

Grad15 is winding down for the spring semester, but will be back in June. View our summer schedule on the Graduate College website here.