Need AND merit? How does that work?

We hear lots of questions about scholarships and how they’re awarded.  (It was the hot topic at Monday’s event.)  Must be time to shed a little sunshine on this murky topic.  Let’s start with the terminology.  When we, at Fletcher, talk about “scholarships,” we’re talking about the funds drawn from the Fletcher pot of cash — not loans, or any other type of financial aid.

Fletcher awards scholarships on the basis of need and merit together.  That is, there are no merit-only scholarships, and there are no need-only scholarships.  Merit is determined through the admissions process, and need is assessed when we review the two-page scholarship application.  For a given level of merit, the largest awards go to those with the greatest financial need.

(This is the moment to mention that we review scholarship applications after admissions decisions have been made.  Applying for a scholarship will not affect your admissions chances.)

We offer a few full-tuition scholarships, but we never “waive tuition.”  (In the end, what is a tuition waiver, anyway, except a full-tuition scholarship?)  Most Fletcher scholarships do not cover the full cost of tuition, and our students usually fund their education through a combination of personal savings, family contributions, the Fletcher scholarship, income earned while a student, loans, and external scholarships or fellowships.  Even students receiving a full-tuition scholarship will need to cover living expenses.

Different graduate schools have different scholarship/financial aid policies, and we’ve tinkered around with ours quite a bit over the years.  Is our current structure perfect?  Nope.  But it makes a certain sense.  We try to give students with financial need a start toward the cost of attendance.  It’s up to the student to line up the remaining funds.

Also up to the student is the task of finding teaching assistant, research assistant, or office positions.  The Admissions Committee doesn’t assign students to professors as research help.  The professors do their own hiring, and many Fletcher students are TAs within the School or in other units of the University.  To be honest, it’s very difficult to line up a teaching assistant position before you’re actually on campus, but some students will be TAs in their second semester.  Research assistant and office positions are advertised at the start of each semester, and are particularly readily available in September.

You may be wondering what you can do now to be sure you can afford graduate school.  The first thing you shouldn’t do is sit back (possibly biting your nails with worry) and wait until you have heard from all the schools to which you applied.  After admissions decisions are released, you only have a short time (about a month) to get all your financial ducks in a row.  Don’t miss the opportunity to do some research and planning now.  What personal and family sources can you draw upon?  Is there any scholarship or fellowship available to someone with your academic or professional or national background?  (These external scholarships are often for small sums, but every bit helps.)  Do a little financial analysis — how much can you afford to borrow?  Finally, it’s not too late to SAVE!  If there’s any way for you to put some money away each month, then do it!  Even if your savings only cover the cost of books, you’ll be glad to have the cash.

Since not all of our applicants and blog readers are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, I won’t say too much here about government loans and work study.  Just this:  if there’s any chance you’re going to want to apply for loans, you should complete the FAFSA, and now is as good a time as any.  That way, when the University informs you of your financial aid “package,” you’ll learn about loan funds in addition to the Fletcher scholarship.

Affording graduate study is a challenge.  Your first step toward meeting the challenge is a little advance preparation.

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