Everyone has hoped to get outside funding for their Master's degree studies; few have succeeded, but even fewer have had a real fighting chance in the first place. And if there is something that troubles students more than the wait for the TOEFL or IELTS score report, it is the reason why their application for a much needed scholarship or grant has been declined.
Sources of financial assistance
There are really only a few very important things to remember when setting out to finance Masters studies:
Make a clear distinction between a scholarship, a grant and a loan – the most popular types of financial assistance. Although it might seem quite obvious at first, you must always remember what defines each of these options for financial assistance and avoid the mistake of focusing on just one. Instead, pay greater attention to the one you undoubtedly qualify to get, but do not ignore the others. The reason for this is because all three are very hard to get, due to the limited supply and the overwhelming demand. Also, be sure to allow plenty of time to look for funding. It will take time.
Sometimes, it is better to accept a loan that will cover less than half of your tuition fee, and try to get the rest of the money from other sources, than to waste your entire time and energy on a scholarship that is impossible to get, and will only leave you empty-handed in the end.
Someone said: “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” and that is exactly what you should do, or rather not do. Keep an open mind, be smart and explore all possibilities with equal enthusiasm.
A scholarship is a financial assistance award provided by the university. They may also be granted by outside bodies, but would always be distributed by the university. Scholarships might be based on your inability to pay for your studies (need-based scholarship), your professional or academic performance (merit-based scholarship) or your ethnic background, gender or nationality. It is important to note that if you are not eligible for the Master's programme itself, you will not be eligible for the scholarship either.
Make sure you explore your chosen university’s website thoroughly. Find the detailed information describing the scholarship(s) and make sure that you absolutely, positively qualify. Universities are generally very precise when describing the prerequisites for applying, leaving very little room for hesitation with regard to the profile of the possible recipient. If you are still unsure whether you qualify, do not be afraid to contact the university and ask.
Almost 100% of the time, you will be asked to motivate your request for scholarship in essay or letter form. Relating your experience in academic research will do little to further your chances when applying for a scholarship aimed at specific nationalities or regions of the world. Relating the ways in which your experience has helped develop or promote academic research in that part of the world, will.
Make sure you always have in mind the type of scholarship that you are applying for.
Depending on its type, you must be prepared to provide a range of documents proving your eligibility. Examples include financial statements when applying for need-based scholarships, academic transcripts, references and test scores for scholarships based on academic merit, and letters of endorsement/recommendation when applying for scholarships based on professional achievements
A grant is typically a third-party, or externally provided, financial assistance. Grants are very similar to scholarships in terms of preparation and eligibility. The defining difference is that grants are given out by an external organisation, and not by the university itself. Examples of “external organisations” include businesses, charities, international organisations, EU organisations, organisations based around causes (for example, for women’s equality, for citizens of post- or in-conflict countries, or for people in the poorest countries around the world). Like scholarships, they are generally given to recipients of a certain profile. Like scholarships, you must be absolutely confident that you are eligible to receive the grant, and be prepared to prove it.
Due to the third party nature of the grant, you have to look proactively for grant opportunities in your country or abroad. Sometimes, the university will have a partnership with the grant provider and will openly advertise it on their webpage as an opportunity to finance Master's studies. Most of the time, however, you will have to look for grant opportunities on your own through web, peer and institutional searches. This will involve spending a decent amount of time browsing the Internet, asking all of your contacts for direction and getting in touch with local or, if you are feeling bold enough, even national authorities, such as Members of Parliament, Municipality representatives, government agencies and the equivalent of your country’s Ministry of Education.
A study loan is a piece of repayable monetary aid provided by a financial institution on the basis of confirmed or expected university admission. The first major difference between a loan on the one hand, and scholarships and grants on the other, is that you will be expected to repay the money to the financial institution that provided it to you. This means that you will be in debt and you will have to start paying it back sooner or later. When exploring this particular financial assistance opportunity, you have to be very attentive to detail. When you go to the bank to ask for a study loan, ask to speak to a consultant. Carefully explain your situation and ask the bank employee to present you with opportunities. Be very precise as to the type of loan that you are looking for. Remember, you want a study loan. The reason for emphasising this is because the conditions for study loans are generally more favourable to the situation that you will find yourself in upon graduation – looking for work and strapped for money.
In most cases, the bank will give you the chance to delay repaying your debt until you start your first job after school. This and other favourable conditions depend on the scope of your research. Much like grants, you will have to be insistent on exploring more than one opportunity through various contacts, on-site visits to different banks, and sometimes even negotiations with bank employees.
Work while studying
Another classic approach to finance Masters studies is to work while studying. Most Master's programmes will be set up in a way that leaves at least one, sometimes up to three, work days free of classes and exercises. This, coupled with the weekend, will leave you plenty of time to do a part-time job that will help you finance your day-to-day expenses.
Keep in mind that a waiter’s job at the local café will likely be unable to pay for your tuition fee, although it will bring you good income for food, travel and recreation. Think of a job on the side while studying only as an extra source of income, a bonus, albeit often necessary.
It is recommended that you begin looking for a job prior to starting your Master's studies. Master's programmes last one to two years, meaning you have little time to waste in looking for work when you are already going to classes. Another important thing to note, especially if you are going to study abroad, is labour regulations. “How many hours am I legally allowed to work?”, “What documents do I need to submit, and to whom, in order to be allowed to work legally?” and “Am I allowed to work in this country at all?” are some of the very important questions that you need to find answers to before the first day of school.
Parents and relatives
No matter how hard you try, or how good a candidate for the various financial aids you are, there is always the chance that none of the above-mentioned funding opportunities will actually materialise.
It is at that point that you have to ask yourself “Is my family able to sustain me for a year?”, “How much of a strain is that tuition fee on my family’s budget?” and finally “Is my desire to acquire a Master's degree financially possible?”.
It is at that point, after all opportunities have been exhausted and you draw the line, that you will have the answer to this life-defining moment that is Master's education. Remember to stay focused and open-minded and to follow your ambition with great determination. Universities, charities, relatives and even banks appreciate these traits, and sympathise with those who do not give up.
And finally, when in doubt ask, and then ask some more.
You never know what unexplored opportunities to finance Master's studies lie around the corner.