Applying to Graduate School

2. Financing Graduate School

Graduate school can be very expensive. Carefully consider the cost of applying and attending a programme before you commit.

Before applying, plan to cover the cost of standardised tests, score reports and application fees, which may exceed S$1,000 if you retake tests, have to submit an English proficiency test score, or apply to many schools. You may qualify for an application fee waiver based on your nationality or financial status – check with individual programmes on this because it can lower application costs significantly.

The annual cost of tuition for a Master’s degree can be S$30,000-S$70,000 in the US; S$4,000-S$20,000 in China, and S$1,000-S$2,000 in Germany. Room, board, travel and personal expenses are separate budget items which can add up to as much – or more than – tuition. Master’s programmes tend to be only partially funded; even if they offer a scholarship or assistantship, it usually won’t cover all programme costs. There are some exceptions , e.g. if you apply for a Master’s through an academic fellowship programme or pursue a research Master’s funded from a faculty supervisor’s grant.

Top PhD programmes typically offer full funding to admitted students as a combination of two or more of the following: grant/scholarship, research assistantship and teaching assistantship. Very strong applicants may also be offered a fellowship on top of the other funding. Given the time and effort it takes to complete a PhD, you should only accept a PhD admission offer if it comes with full funding.

Last but not least, there is an opportunity cost to studying full-time for 1-5 years instead of working and earning a stable income. The graduate programme you pursue should enhance your earning power enough to make up for that cost. Alternatively, you may consider working while studying (see below).

There are several main types of financial assistance for graduate programmes.

Grants, Fellowships and Scholarships

Grants, fellowships and scholarships are sources of financial aid that you do not need to pay back or to work in order to earn. They may be provided by the school, the government, a professional association, a non-profit foundation, a local club or charity organisation. They vary by type and amount, are typically competitive and often awarded based on academic merit. If an application is required, apply selectively, based on your interests and achievements. Some school- or programme-specific fellowships do not require a separate application; if you meet their eligibility requirements, they consider you automatically when you apply for admission to the given school or programme. Eligibility requirements include but are not limited to interest in a specific subject or career, nationality, ethnic background, religious affiliation and gender. Below is a non-exhaustive list of grant, fellowship and scholarship resources for your reference.

CIPE Listing of Postgraduate Fellowships
Scholarship Schemes for Graduate Studies in Singapore
BrightSparks Scholarship Portal – for Singapore Citizens or Singapore PR
Tan Kah Kee Foundation Postgraduate Scholarships – for Singapore Citizens or Singapore PR
CollegeBoard Scholarship Search
DiversityAbroad – scholarships for minority and underrepresented students
FastWeb Scholarship Database
GoGrad Graduate School Scholarships
InternationalScholarships.com – grants, scholarships and loan programmes
International Education Financial Aid (IEFA) Database
Peterson’s Grad School Scholarship Database
Scholarships.com
Scholars4Dev – scholarships for people from developing countries, people interested in development work, or those seeking global and national development through further education.
UCLA’s GRAPES Database – scholarships, grants, fellowships and post-doc awards

Assistantships

Assistantships are on-campus professional attachments that provide you with a stipend and/or a tuition fee discount in exchange for work. Some may also offer health benefits. The three main types are teaching, research and graduate assistantships. The amount of funding you can receive through an assistantship depends on the school, department, the expected number of hours per week, and your level of responsibility. Check with the individual schools on available assistantship schemes and their application requirements. While assistantships add extra hours of work to your graduate study schedule, they are a great way to finance your education while gaining transferable skills.

Loans

A loan is a funding option that you have to pay back to the loan-granting organisation. They are generally divided into public (provided by governments) and private (provided by companies). Private loans tend to have higher interest rates and are often the only loan option available to non-citizens of the graduate programme’s host country. If you are considering a loan to finance your graduate studies, read the small print carefully to understand the interest rates and their change over time, repayment timelines and policies, and any applicable fees. The financial aid office at your schools of choice may be able to provide more information on available loans.

Working before/ while Attending Graduate School

If you decide to work for a few years before graduate school, you may qualify for employer tuition reimbursement, whereby your employer partly or fully covers your graduate school tuition, fees and associated expenses, or funds up to a certain number of courses per year. This opportunity is more common for professional degrees (e.g. MBA) and may come with restrictions on the institutions you can attend and the type of programme or subjects you can pursue. In addition, employer tuition reimbursement often comes with a requirement to work for that employer for a few years after completing the degree.
If you want – or need – to work full-time while attending graduate school, you may have to opt for a part-time, distance or online graduate programme. This limits your options and may impact the way employers view the quality of your education – online degrees in particular can be less highly regarded than traditional ones. Working full-time while studying can also be very taxing on your energy, but may also lead to much less debt at graduation.