By Jean O’Toole, Author of Scholarship Strategies Finding and Winning the Money You Need

With student loan debt at $1.5 trillion in the United States it’s a wise decision to look at ways to reduce the cost of graduate school and not just sign your name to new or additional student loans. A very much overlooked way to reduce the cost of additional education are private scholarships. Many companies, organizations, individuals and foundations have created private scholarships that can be used by recipients at any chosen college or university.

There are many reasons why people are not pursuing private scholarships, despite the fact that they can dramatically reduce or even eliminate the costs of grad school, med school, law school or doctorate programs.

Some people wrongly assume that all scholarship applications will take a lot of time that they don’t have. Some people don’t know how to start looking so they give up even before they ever start. Other people mistakenly believe that the window of opportunity to apply for scholarships ended when they graduated from high school. Lastly, many people simply believe that they couldn’t possibly be “good enough” to be the recipient of an award and they don’t ever try. With so many people opting out of the application process, statistically you have an increased probability of potentially becoming a recipient of a scholarship award. The key is knowing where to find the scholarship opportunities.

There are five places to find scholarships for advanced degree programs.

1. Academic Department Office.

Many private scholarship committees will actively reach out to the academic departments at colleges and universities with their career specific scholarships.

Utilize both the academic departments of where you completed your undergraduate degree, as well as where you are pursuing your advanced degree. This should be your first step, as it is a massive time saver in finding scholarships aligned with your future goals.

Follow up with an email every 3 months to those departments to check in on any new opportunities.

2. Alumni Department Office.

Connecting with the alumni offices from your previous and future educational institutions to find out about scholarship opportunities is the most overlooked goldmine.

You are not the first person in your chosen field to seek scholarships to reduce the cost of your education. Recognize that you have an entire army of scholarship research assistants who have already done the work.

Utilize the team of alumni personnel at your institutions to help you connect to former students in your chosen field quickly and efficiently. Inquire about scholarships they found, applied to and received. This can also serve as bridge to expand your network for future internships and job opportunities.

3. Professional Organizations and Associations.

Most professional organizations and associations offer scholarships to individuals aspiring to work in their field. Research what organizations and associations are related to your chosen field of study. Email them to inquire about opportunities that they have or of sources they might be aware of.

Many professional organizations and associations may require membership to be eligible for scholarships. If membership within an association is required, ask about free options to become a member.

4. Scholarship Book Directories.

Let’s be honest. We Google everything. We have all forgotten how efficient it is to pick up a book and turn to the index to find exactly what we are looking for. A visit to your local public library can save you thousands of dollars.

Scholarship book directories are huge books found in the college resources section of any library. Simply turn to the index to quickly identify scholarships in your chosen field. Turn to the page and write down the applicable websites. You can leave there with a list of opportunities to start expediting immediately.

5. Scholarship Website Directories.

There are many scholarship websites that help people find scholarships. A list of ten free websites can be found at My team and I have a favorite site to use when researching and that is Utilize the tab labeled Scholarship Directory to search for scholarships by age, by field of study and by deadline. Sorting opportunities by deadline can help you focus on applications one month at a time and not overwhelm yourself.

Private scholarships for graduate school, medical school, law school or doctorate degree programs are often specific to the field of study that you are pursuing. Do not make the mistake however of only looking at scholarships related to your field of study. For example, you can apply for a poetry scholarship and use the money to contribute towards your MBA.

Private scholarship amounts range from those of less than $2500 each to full expense paid opportunities. They can be stacked on top of college specific scholarships that your educational institution may also be offering you. They can most importantly be a game changer in terms of advancing in your professional field while not burdening yourself with years of student loan debt to repay. With this smart use of your time now, you can transform the future outlook for yourself for many years to come.

By Jean O’Toole

Jean O’Toole is an educational consultant and author of the bestselling book, Scholarship Strategies Finding and Winning the Money You Need. Over the past 15 years, she has helped tens of thousands of students in the United States. Individuals collectively have been awarded millions of dollars by applying her scholarship strategies.  In 2008 she co-founded Connections101, a company specializing in providing motivational tools for scholarship searching. It is her goal to empower students to design their paths to their future without college debt. For more information about Jean, visit

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