Many students turn to the military as a way to finance their college education, receive relevant work training, and serve their country at the same time. Some students even choose to stay in the service after meeting their commitments, and spend their entire careers in the military. Read on to learn more about educational financing options provided by the U.S. military, state and local government, and private organizations.
U.S. SERVICE ACADEMIES
Each branch of the military maintains its own four year school of higher learning. Students enrolled in each academy receive full tuition, with a monthly stipend for four years, and study a concentration of courses toward a bachelor’s of science. Training at this level is demanding, and many well known politicians, world leaders, and business executives are among these institutions alumnae. Entrance, or appointment, to a military academy is highly competitive, allowing only students with the highest GPAs and college entrance scores. Most academies also rely on a student’s recommendation from a member of the U.S. Congress or academy official.
What will you learn? Students at service academies study a core curriculum heavy on science, engineering, and mathematics, along with physical training and military leadership. Students at the Coast Guard Academy also study courses in naval architecture or marine environmental science.
After graduation from the Air Force or Navy/Marine academy, students must complete a five year tour of active duty. Graduates of the Army academy must complete a minimum of five years of active duty. Graduates of the Coast Guard’s Officer Candidate School must complete three years of active duty. Students graduate with the rank of second lieutenant in the Army, Air Force, or Marines, and as ensigns in the Navy or Coast Guard.
For more information on U.S. military academies, visit the following Web sites:
– U.S. Air Force Academy (http://www.usafa. af.mil)
– U.S. Coast Guard Academy (http://www.cga. edu)
– U.S. Military Academy (Army, http://www.usma. edu)
– U.S. Naval Academy (Navy and Marine Corps, http://www.usna.edu/homepage.php)
RESERVE OFFICERS TRAINING CORPS (ROTO)
Students taking this route receive full or partial funding of their college education, plus expenses for books, fees, and a monthly stipend. ROTC scholarships are merit based. ROTC programs are offered as an elective program at many colleges and universities throughout the United States as a means to recruit, educate, and train qualified students as commissioned officers. Each branch maintains admissions guidelines, applications, and list of participating schools at their respective Web sites. The following sections provide a breakdown of ROTC programs by service branch.
Air Force ROTC
To be eligible for this program, students must be U.S. citizens and between the ages of 17 to 31 (from the date their commission begins). Candidates must pass a medical exam, be physically fit, and have correctible vision. They must also hold a high school diploma or the equivalent, and have acceptable ACT or SAT scores. In addition to regular college course work, cadets must also take courses in military training, leadership labs, and physical training.
Commitment varies with a student’s major and required training. Most graduates are required to serve a four year commitment as an officer on active duty. Pilots must commit to 10 years after pilot training; navigators, six years after training; and aviation battle managers, six years after training.
The Air Force offers three types of ROTC scholarships:
– Type 1: Four-year scholarships paying full tuition, and $600 for books. Students accepting Type 1 scholarships major in computer, electrical, or environmental engineering. Only 5 percent of all scholarships fall into this category.
– Type 2: Three-year scholarships centering in the technical fields. Scholarships include tuition, fees up to $15,000, and $600 for books. If the student intends to enroll at a university where tuition exceeds the limit, they can choose to pay the difference. About 10 percent of scholarships awarded fall in this category.
– Type 7: Full-college tuition up to $9,000, plus a $600 allowance per year for books. Students must choose universities or colleges whose tuition falls within this range they are not allowed to pay for the difference.
For more information on the Air Force ROTC, visit http://www afrotc.com.
In order to qualify for Army ROTC, students should be citizens of the United States, be between the ages of 17 and 26, meet physical standards, and meet certain educational requirements high school diploma or GED, high school GPA of at least 2.5, and minimum SAT (920) and SAT (19) scores.
In addition to their usual college course load each semester, students, or cadets, are required to take one military science or related class per semester. During the first two years of college, cadets participate in the ROTC Basic Course where they learn military skills as well as leadership skills. No commitment to military service is required at this time, allowing many students to fully explore this career/educational option. During the last two years of college, cadets take advanced courses in military tactics, team organization, military planning and decision-making. Cadets graduating from the Army ROTC must commit to at least three to four years of full time duty. Some cadets may choose to serve a longer, part time commitment in the Army Reserve or National Guard, allowing them the opportunity to pursue a nonmilitary career full time.
Two, three, and four year scholarships of up to $20,000 (plus allowances for books and fees) are available.
For more information on Army ROTC, visit http:// www.goarmy.com/rotc.
Navy and Marine ROTC
The Navy and Marine branches of the military are served by the Navy ROTC (NROTC). Candidates must meet academic and physical standards including U.S. citizenship, age requirements (17 to 23), high school diploma or the equivalent, and qualified college entrance scores. In addition to their normal college course load, NROTC students, referred to as midshipmen, take calculus, physics, English grammar and composition, and classes in national security and American military affairs.
Midshipmen receive four years of full tuition, including books, fees, and a monthly stipend. NROTC scholarships for technical degrees such as engineering, computer science, or physics can award five years of full tuition.
NROTC graduates are commissioned as ensigns and have a military obligation of eight years four years of active duty, and the remaining four as selective reserve, or inactive ready-reserve. For more information, https:// www.nrotc.navy.mil.
Other military programs can also provide educational assistance in exchange for time in service. Here are some popular military programs:
Montgomery Gl Bill
The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) is an education incentive for those enlisted in all branches of the military. Service men and women have the option of “buying” into this financial service during their tour of duty, with a monthly deduction of $100 from their pay for the first 12 months of duty. In return, the MGIB provides up to 36 months of benefits, with final benefit amounts dependent on the length of service. Money from the MGIB can be used toward educational expenses at accredited universities, colleges, technical schools, and vocational schools. Currently, veterans with two years of service can receive $840 monthly, or $30,240 lifetime. Those with three or more years of service can receive $1,034 a month, or $37,224 lifetime. Service in the Reserves and National Guard can also qualify you for educational funding. MGIB benefits must be taken no later than 10 years after the last tour of duty. Immediate family members of veterans may also be able to benefit from the MGIB. More detailed information on the MGIB can be found by contacting the various military branches or by visiting http://www.gibill.com.
Military College Funds
Military College Funds (MCFs) are available to enlisted personnel for help in paying for college. Because aid provided by MCFs are usually used to supplement, or boost, funding received from the MGIB, this program is often referred to as “kicker.” MCFs are an option selected at the time of enlistment; participation in the MGIB is necessary to be eligible for these funds. Funds from this program are awarded based on merit those eligible must earn above-average scores on military qualification exams. Other important requirements include status (nonoffi-cers only) and participation in a military occupational specialty. The amount of funding received from a MCF depends on the branch of military, as well as the length of duty (two to four years). Military College Fund benefits expire 10 years after separation from the military.
Some branches of the military provide tuition assistance to eligible personnel and reserves. Studies can be pursued via online courses or during leave time. Money from this program is not a loan, but rather a payment toward an associate or bachelor’s degree. The amount of funding varies from branch to branch the Air Force offers up to $3,500 per year; Navy, $3,000 annually; and the Marines and Coast Guard, up to $4,500 annually. The Army does not have a separate tuition assistance program; it offers funding through the Montgomery GI Bill and its College Fund. Many students use the tuition assistance program, along with the MGIB program, to fund their college education. Eligibility requirements and service commitments vary according to each military branch. For more information, visit each branch’s Web site.
Student Repayment Program
This is an incentive offered to highly qualified service personnel at the time of enlistment; those signing up for the program cannot participate in the MGIB. Personnel must also be eligible for certain military occupational specialties in order to qualify for this program. The amount the military will pay for a student’s loan is in accordance to the number of years in service. The loan in question must originate from an accredited source and must not be in default. The total amount of repayment varies from branch to branch the Army and Navy will pay up to $65,000 versus the Air Force’s limit of $10,000. For more information, contact the various military branches.
NON MILITARY OPTIONS
State and Local Government
State and local governments also offer college funding to active, reserve, and retired members of the military and their dependents. Visit the military financial aid section of this book for a list of available programs.
Veterans organizations, professional associations, and colleges and universities offer financial aid to active, reserve, and retired members of the military and their dependants. Examples of such organizations include the Army Aviation Association of America (http://www.quad-a.org), Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (http://www.cgmahq.org), the Fleet Reserve Association (http://www.fra.org), the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans (https:// www.horatioalger.com), and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (http://www.nmcrs.org). Visit the military financial aid section of this book for a list of available programs.
IS THE MILITARY RIGHT FOR ME?
The educational rewards of joining the military are appealing. For some, it may be the best way to fund a college education. Read on to weigh the pros and cons of a military education.
– Great way to pay for college.
– Good job training and work experience.
– Good physical training.
– Opportunity to travel and experience other countries and cultures.
– Provides life direction and discipline.
– Great military benefits for self and family.
– Paves the path for a military career.
– The commitment service is long and unavoidable.
– Pay is not that good for enlisted servicemen.
– There is little freedom regarding personal decisions.
– The military lifestyle may be too strict and rigid for some.
– There is always the threat of war and risk of injury or even death.
FINANCIAL, AID FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
The percentage of first-year college students who report having a disability has more than tripled since the late 1970s. A rise in the awareness and diagnosis of learning disabilities accounts for some of this tremendous enrollment jump. More significantly, however, students with disabilities who would have been steered away from college in the past now recognize that it’s a great way to prepare for an interesting career and to take fuller control of their lives.
Heading off to college ranks right up there as one of life’s major transitions. For the disabled student, it’s particularly important to start laying the foundation for a good college experience early. Here are some tips to help you get into the school of your choice, locate a variety of financial aid options, and make a smooth transition once you’re on campus.
You can’t start preparations too soon. Even if you’re only in the ninth or tenth grade, it’s time to begin considering your options. Talk with school counselors or independent-living-center counselors about careers that pique your interest. Sign up for college-prep courses or consider taking a few college-level classes at a community college. Tackling tough courses now will make it easier once you’re in college. And purchase the best computer you can afford, since they’ve become a necessity on most campuses. You should also obtain extensive documentation from medical professionals regarding your disability (in addition to the information that is found in your Individualized Education Program). This documentation will be necessary for you to obtain many accommodations when you are in college.
Doing well on precollege exams such as the SAT (http://www.collegeboard.com/ssd/student/index.html) and ACT (http://www.act.org/aap/disab/index.html) is also going to give you a head start on getting into the college of your choice. If you need any sort of test-taking accommodations, don’t be shy about asking for them.
If you’re disappointed with your score and feel you can improve on it, consider retaking the exam.
CHOOSING A SCHOOL
You’ve decided what kind of career or degree program interests you. Now it’s time to make a list of schools that offer those programs. Your high school counselor will have some suggestions, but you should also do your own research on colleges and universities by using reference books and the Internet, and talking to people who have been to college about their experiences. Don’t forget to consider two-year colleges. It is estimated that 60 percent of all students with disabilities choose two-year colleges.
After you’ve made a preliminary list of schools that offer your chosen course of study, start narrowing the list based on other criteria. One of the things you’ll need to decide is how important a school’s disability services are to you. By law, all colleges must be accessible to students with disabilities; so many students with disabilities consider available disability services as just one factor in their decision-making process. They also consider qualities such as the availability of a desired major, private versus public institution, cost, setting, class size, research facilities, two-year versus four-year, and so on. Yet a number of students believe that the strength of a college’s disability services can have a huge impact on their academic success or failure.
Whatever the criteria on which you ultimately base your decision, you’ll definitely want to inquire about disability services at all of the colleges on your list. One of the most important things you can do is to prepare a list of questions for potential colleges and universities regarding your needs and how they will address them. After you come up with your questions, share your list with your parents, teachers, counselors, and case managers in case they have any additional suggestions. Having as many people as possible who are familiar with you review your list of questions will help ensure that your questions are comprehensive and address all of your needs. Some general topics to cover in your questions:
– How much money does the school spend on its disability services?
– Is financial support available for continuing services?
– What’s the enrollment of disabled students on campus?
– What is the graduation rate for students with disabilities?
– Is the staff knowledgeable about my disability?
– What services does the school offer?
– How can I obtain any services that I need that the school does not currently provide?
– What equipment and assistive technology is available, where is it, how often will I have access to it, and how will I be trained on it, if necessary
– How are services or equipment funded? Will I be expected to pay for any portion of it?
– What types of accommodations will be made for me as I attend class, prepare assignments, and take exams?
If you anticipate living on campus while you attend school, ask about residential options:
– How accessible are they for me? Inquire about the layout of campus, taking into consideration the buildings you are most likely to live in and attend classes in, especially if you have a physical disability:
– How easily will I be able to maneuver between buildings?
– Are all buildings accessible to me?
– Are all of the classrooms accessible to me? If not, how likely is it that all of my classes can be held in accessible areas?
– What type of public transportation is available on campus and in the surrounding community? Is it accessible to me?
– Does the university offer transportation for disabled students?
– Are there any support groups or mentoring options on campus for students with disabilities?
When you find an institution that you are interested in, take the time to meet with staff from the school’s office that coordinates disability services. Try to get a feel for the personnel of the office: how helpful they are, how comfortable you are with them. While your overall impression of them should not be the only reason you decide whether or not to attend that institution, you should have a clear idea of what you can or cannot expect from them, and factor that into your planning process. Be sure to attend any orientations or programs for prospective students with disabilities that the school may have. Besides being informative, they will also serve to introduce you to other students with disabilities who might have already encountered some of the same obstacles that you have, and might be able to offer useful suggestions. They will also provide you with an opportunity to forge friendships with others who are facing many of the same things you are, as you anticipate your postsecondary education options.
FINDING THE FUNDS
If you’re worried about how to pay for college, you’re not alone. Every three years, the HEATH Resource Center, a national clearinghouse on postsecondary education for individuals with disabilities, publishes a statistical profile on first year college students with disabilities. Among its findings, the 2001 study showed that students with disabilities are more likely than their peers without disabilities to be significantly concerned about paying for their education. The good news is that with some perseverance, you can find financial aid that will cover, or at least offset, the expense of college.
One of the sources that many college students with disabilities depend on is Vocational Rehabilitation (VR), a government funded program. The purpose of VR is to help individuals with disabilities maximize their employment, economic self sufficiency, and integration into society. It’s very important to contact your local VR office as early as possible. If you’re a junior in high school, you should apply now to find out if you’re eligible for assistance. Once VR determines your eligibility, you’ll begin meeting with a counselor who will help you map out a long-term career plan. In most states, VR will pay for tuition, books, reader and interpreter services, and technological aids or devices.
It’s unlikely, however, that all of your expenses will be covered by VR. You’ll need to look into funding from other sources, too, such as grants, scholarships, loans, and work-study The benefit of grants and scholarships is that they do not have to be repaid. Some scholarships are given to specific disability populations (contact the HEATH Resource Center for a partial list). However, these scholarships are usually limited and in small amounts ranging from $500 to $1,000. Some colleges and universities also offer scholarships for students with disabilities, so it’s important to contact disability services at the colleges you’re considering. For a broader choice of scholarships, consider those that have nothing to do with your disability, but depend instead on your career goals, military experience, ethnic background, religious affiliation, extracurricular activities, and so forth. To search for current scholarships, see the “Directory” portion of this book (which includes financial aid resources for students with disabilities, as well as general financial aid). You can also research scholarships on the Internet (see “Further Resources” for specific Web sites) and at your local or school library.
Loans are a form of financial aid that must be repaid over an extended period of time after you finish college. Work-study allows you to work to earn money to cover your college expenses. One of the best sources of information about loans and work-study programs is the financial aid officer at each college to which you apply.
Other sources of financial assistance for students with disabilities include Supplemental Security Income (http:// www.ssa.gov/notices/supplemental-security-income), a federal program that provides assistance to people who are aged, blind, or disabled and have little or no income, and Social Security Disability Insurance (http://www.ssa. gov/dibplan/index.htm), which assists certain students who have been employed, who have a parent who has filed for Social Security, or who have a deceased parent. Discuss these options with your VR counselor or contact the Social Security administration office.
Here are some final thoughts about applying for financial aid: You’ll be dealing with reams of paperwork. It’s vital that you meet the deadlines and provide accurate information. Ask someone to proofread your forms and applications. During the application process, contact the colleges financial aid offices to confirm that your data is being processed. It doesn’t hurt to ask your VR counselor to stay in touch with the colleges, too.
NOW YOU’RE IN COLLEGE!
One of the most important differences between high school and college for a person who is disabled is the manner in which his or her needs are addressed and served. In college, you are your own advocate, you are responsible for making your needs known. In high school, the educational system creates your Individualized Education Program (IEP) for you, identifies which services you need, and you can expect to receive the necessary support and services. In college, there is no IEP; you must request the same services that were previously identified and provided for you. In high school, classes are modified for you according to your disability; in college they are not. Prepare yourself for this and create strategies to deal with the difference. You can request certain modifications, but the actual course work requirements will not be modified. Consider things like assistive technology or using a facilitator in class to assist with note taking. These are things you may be required to fund yourself, so it’s a good idea to research how you’ll do this while you’re still in high school.
The 1973 Rehabilitation Act and 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act states: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his/her disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity.” But, despite these laws, it is up to you to advocate for your rights under the law.
No matter how excellent a college or university is at providing accommodations for disabled students, you know better than anyone what your needs are. So it’s up to you to make requests. Some accommodations are simple, such as a student with low vision asking to be seated in the front row. Other accommodations require creativity, like the student with a learning disability who asks a professor to incorporate tactile demonstrations into her instruction. Getting to know other students with disabilities on campus will give you a chance to share ideas and accommodation strategies.
Shifting into self-advocacy can be a dramatic change for students who have previously relied on counselors, parents, or teachers to handle matters for them. Students with disabilities find that one of their biggest adjustments is learning to speak up for themselves. Because they were assisted via an IEP in high school, they may have never talked about their disability and how it affects them academically. It’s a good idea to start practicing these types of conversations before you get to college.
Learning how to be a self-advocate is, in itself, a powerful skill, something you should aspire to gain from your time in college. You’ll need to remind yourself of that occasionally when you face obstacles along the way to getting your degree and pursuing a rewarding career.
IS GRADUATE SCHOOL RIGHT FOR YOU?
You’ve almost completed your undergraduate education, and the question nags at you: “Should I enter the job market or should I go on to grad school?” This essay provides an overview of graduate degrees, admissions and personal requirements, financial aid options, and advice on how to decide if continuing on to graduate school is the best option for you.
TYPES OF GRADUATE DEGREES
There are two types of graduate degrees the master’s and doctorate. Students enter master’s degree programs after they earn their undergraduate degree, and doctoral programs after they earn their master’s degree.
A master’s degree is awarded after completion of advanced study in a particular field. Such programs typically last about two or three years. The most popular degrees conferred are master of arts (M.A.) degrees and master of science (M.S.) degrees. Other master’s degrees are awarded in fine arts, library science, and business.
During the first year of a master’s program, expect to take foundation course work required for your particular degree. Different professors will supervise your work, but a faculty adviser will monitor your overall performance. During this time you will begin to narrow your academic focus within your major.
More required course work will follow in the second year, but much of your time will be spent on your master’s thesis or research paper, which highlights your expertise in a particular subject area or specialty, or in preparation for a comprehensive examination or final project.
A doctorate is the highest academic degree, lasting anywhere from three to eight years. Three types of doctorate degrees are awarded.
– The doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) is the most common type of research doctorate. Candidates in this program usually pursue careers in research or academics after graduation and are regarded as experts in their field of study. Ph.D. programs can last anywhere from three to more than seven years of study. During the first three years or so, depending on the doctoral program, expect to complete required course work in your major. You might obtain a research appointment working with professors in your field of interest, or be assigned teaching duties at the undergraduate level. You will be expected to develop a thesis or complete a series of exams before allowed to continue in the program. Your doctoral dissertation will be the main focus of your remaining years in the program. Much time will be spent researching and writing your dissertation as proof you have mastered knowledge in a particular field or specialty. Teaching duties may still exist, though they will be supervised less by faculty; lessons of your own design may be used to teach these classes. Your doctoral program will conclude with the successful presentation and defense of your dissertation before a committee of faculty members.
– Professional doctorates, lasting about three to four years, include thorough study in a particular field, practical experience, original research and thesis (required for certain professional doctorates), and examination for licensure. Some fields that require professional doctorates include medicine, law, veterinary medicine, and dental science. For example, students working toward a medical degree will spend their early years of study completing necessary course work, such as anatomy, physiology, genetics, and studies in neuroscience. The remaining years consist of various rotations where medical students interact with patients under the supervision of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals.
– Honorary doctorates are awarded to individuals who have made an impressive contribution to a particular field. For example, actor Bill Cosby, a longtime advocate of education, holds honorary doctorates from the University of Cincinnati and Wilkes University, in addition to earning a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts.
DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO ENTER GRADUATE SCHOOL?
The requirements for applying to graduate school almost mirror those for an undergraduate program. Here is a general overview of what will usually be required:
– Graduate Record Examination. Applicants to most programs must take a standardized entrance exam for graduate school consideration. Those applying for graduate study must take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). General Test GREs test the student on such areas as critical thinking, analytical thinking, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning skills. The GRE also offers optional Subject Tests that gauge a student’s knowledge of a particular subject, or major, as learned during their undergraduate years. Subjects include biochemistry, cell, and molecular biology; biology; chemistry; computer science; literature in English; mathematics; physics; and psychology. Some programs do not require GRE scores for admission, so be sure to review admission criteria for the schools that interest you.
– Standardized examinations for professional doctorate programs include the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and the Dental Admission Test (DAT)
– Transcripts. Graduate schools are selective and place great emphasis on a student’s undergraduate grade point average; only high ranking students are admitted. However, the level of courses you take as an undergraduate will also count as much as your final GPA. After all, an A in artistic welding will not hold as much weight as an A in organic chemistry, especially if you are hoping for admission to a top medical school program. Be sure to review your school transcripts for accuracy, and make any necessary corrections before submitting them to different graduate schools.
– Application, including a personal statement.
– Letters of recommendation. Ask for letters of recommendation from those who know you well. The letters should attest to your character and study and work ethic, as well as your past academic achievements. Interview. Many schools require a personal interview before granting admission, perhaps due to fierce competition for few positions in a graduate program. This is also one final judging moment to see if the applicant “matches” the application as well as the program desired.
Your application, test scores, and transcripts pass muster you’re officially a graduate student! Now the stakes are higher, the atmosphere more serious, the competition fiercer as compared to your undergrad days. Be prepared for some major changes:
– Did you have the reputation of being one of the smartest students in your undergraduate class? Good, because you’ll be spending the next two years or more with similar company. Graduate programs typically only accept 10 percent of total applicants per year, so they can be quite selective with their admissions. You’ll need to work harder and be more competitive in order to keep up with your peers.
– Classes taught at the graduate-level are given letter grades of A, B, or C with no grade curve allowed. Students with a C-average in any subject will be required to repeat the course. Class size will be considerably smaller and more active, giving students more opportunity to raise questions, contribute to discussions, and present their own interpretation of class topics. This may be a disadvantage to shy students whose lack of class participation may have gone unnoticed in larger undergraduate lectures and classes.
– Expect the workload to be quite heavy, and you will receive less time to complete assignments. Professors will assign more reading, writing, and research, in addition to other expected tasks such as moderating undergraduate classes, grading papers and exams, departmental research duties, fieldwork, and attending conferences. Avoid feeling overwhelmed by learning to work quickly and efficiently, multi-task, and prioritize different assignments and duties.
– Practical experience is required of all graduate students. Medical students are required to rotate through various departments of a hospital; master’s of psychology candidates often do a semester or two of testing and evaluation within their desired specialty; master’s of art candidates often teach classes at the undergraduate level. This form of fieldwork is important since it gives graduate students the opportunity to implement information and skills taught in class, and network for future employment possibilities.
– You will be assigned an adviser to help you through graduate school. Advisers will provide suggestions on which courses to take, review your papers and research, and monitor your progress as a student. Advisers often tap their best students for help with important research projects and publications. This relationship can be beneficial to your future career a good mentor/student connection can provide valuable work experience, a network of professional contacts, and an ally during educational struggles.
CAN YOU AFFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL?
Very few people are able to afford graduate school without some sort of financial assistance. Here are some options on how to fund your graduate education:
Fellowships are essentially merit-based scholarships awarded to promising students by the government, schools, or private organizations. Students are paid to continue their studies in a field approved or supported by the originator of the fellowship. In addition to paid tuition, fellows are provided an annual stipend, living allowance, and other benefits.
Research Assistantships/Teacher Assistantships
Graduate students can help pay for their education by becoming a research assistant (RA) or teacher assistant (TA). RAs and TAs work within their particular department by teaching classes at the undergraduate level, grading research papers, proctoring exams, assisting in laboratories and libraries, moderating study groups, performing research, and handling other duties as needed by departmental faculty. In exchange, RAs and TAs receive a modest annual stipend from the department. Funding is provided by the school, and is at the discretion of faculty members.
Unless you are independently wealthy, chances are you will turn to a number of available government loan programs. In fact, according to a recent National Postsecond-ary Student Aid Study, 95 percent of medical students undertake student loans to finance medical school. Recipients of fellowships and/or scholarships must often resort to student loans to help them make ends meet.
Companies often provide their employees full or partial tuition reimbursement so that they may attend graduate programs, especially if it will help improve job performance or productivity. Contact your company’s human resources department to find out if this is part of your benefits package.
WHAT’S IT WORTH?
You’re in a graduate program to advance your intellect, master afield of interest, and perform good deeds for all humankind. That said, is there real money to be made with a graduate degree? It all depends on your specialty. Certain industries require an advanced degree in order to get licensure, such as law or medicine. Then there are industries that usually require an advanced degree, especially if the specialty, such as engineering or counseling, is highly competitive. Others, such as teachers, nurses, accountants, or journalists have numerous employment opportunities with simply a four-year, or in some cases, a two-year degree. However, salaries are higher, and career advancements faster for those with a graduate degree. A 2005 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers provides a good example of the benefits of graduate education for mechanical engineers. A mechanical engineer with a bachelor’s degree earned $50,286 in 2005, but those with master’s degrees and doctorates earned $59,880 and $68,299, respectively.
College is not for everyone, and to a greater degree, the same holds true for graduate school. Here are some questions to ask yourself before committing to graduate education:
– What is my main objective in applying to graduate school? Do I want to learn more about my field? Do I want to be more competitive in the job market? Am I simply undecided about what to do next?
– Do I like the academic environment?
– Am I prepared for the hard work and dedication expected of me?
– Do I like to learn new things?
– Can I survive in a competitive atmosphere?
– Am I self-motivated?
– How will I finance my graduate education?
– Can I manage to live on a tight budget while in graduate school?
– Is a graduate degree an absolute necessity for my career goals?
– Am I willing to focus mainly on my studies and research for the near future?
– If working toward a Ph.D., will I be happy teaching or conducting research for the majority of my working years?