Skip to main content
A head shot of Srijani Datta

Srijani Datta

Graduate Student
Arts + Social Sciences › Political Science
OLC Writer

empty
a SFU graduate during convocation holding her diploma
In fact, recently I heard one of my friends owed $40,000 in student loans. Needless to say, I hyperventilated on her behalf... Based on my own experience and those of my peers I bring to you a list of options that you can tap into if you want to pursue a grad program,

A college education is known for being expensive. Those jokes about crippling student debts are as real as the orange-ness of a certain Cheeto-coloured President’s skin. In fact, recently I heard one of my friends owed $40,000 in student loans. Needless to say, I hyperventilated on her behalf.  However, it does not always have to be as alarming, especially when talking about a grad school education. Based on my own experience and those of my peers I bring to you a list of options that you can tap into if you want to pursue a grad program, bother here and abroad. Note that in this article I will NOT talk about different kind of student loans from banks, as I want to help you consider options which will keep you debt-free.

1. Scholarships (Departmental, External, and Governmental)

This is a no-brainer option, and often incoming students are offered such funds directly by their universities, without the students applying for them directly. However, the catch is in remembering that there is not just one kind or source of scholarship.

Departmental and External: Let me break this down for you by using SFU’s grad awards as an example. Every month graduate students at SFU receive a grad newsletter informing them of all news and announcements pertinent to them. These also include announcements of job offerings and scholarships. This newsletter announces the opening of a list of department-specific and university-wide scholarships to students, every summer. These scholarships can range from a few hundred to several thousands of dollars. All application requirements are easily available online and the application period runs for at least a month if not more. However, these are mostly private awards that are announced by the university. There are also funds announced by independent organizations and governmental awards e.g. Fulbright ScholarshipSSHRC awards. You can begin your search by looking into the Department of Education of your home country, as well as the host country, if you are travelling for your degree.

 2. Trusts, Charities, Educational Societies and Interest Groups 

A sub-category of the external funds are grants from charities and trusts who often reserve funding for target demographics. For instance, the Aga Khan Foundation’s fund has the following target population 


“The Foundation accepts applications from nationals of the following countries: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Madagascar and Mozambique.  In France, Portugal, UK, USA and Canada, applications are accepted from those who are originally from one of the above developing countries, are interested in development-related studies and who have no other means of financing their education.”


Organizations or foundations of this kind look for candidates with excellent academic records and unique research areas. When and if applying for such funds be sure to highlight the significance of your work and skills.

3. Apply Widely and Negotiate 

There are two benefits of applying widely: a) there’s a higher chance of getting accepted by at least one institution, b) if you have a strong student profile, you can use the offers against each other to negotiate better funding. This process is very much like negotiating a job salary, and I should add here that it works best for PhD programs. However, there are cases where students in different Master’s Degrees have been offered more funding by competing universities, to attract them. Additionally, this summer when a friend of mine accepted her PhD offer without any negotiation, one of the senior professors of SFU Social Sciences personally contacted her to remind her to always negotiate a higher stipend. So, do not feel shy or hold back once you get accepted by post-secondary institutions. Believe in the worth of your contribution and negotiate for what you think you deserve.

 4. TA and RA Positions 

TA or Teaching Assistantships are common ways of funding graduate students. These are especially popular in social sciences and STEM subjects. For example, when I had applied to SFU as a grad student, a portion of my funding was provided through guaranteed TA positions. Based on your degree and type of program, you can be guaranteed a varied number of Teaching Assistantships. And once you have run out of the guaranteed spots, you can always apply on your own to as many departments as you like. If you have the relevant background in a subject, you can apply for a TA position in it. For instance, if you are a graduate student in the English department but have a background in Mathematics and Computer Science, you can easily apply to TA in the STEM subjects. RA positions or Research Assistantships are usually tied to research projects under particular professors, including your own supervisor. If you are not offered an RA position during admission, you can always apply for one or more after you begin your program. Graduate departments circulate RA postings not only from several programs but also from other universities. Working as an RA not only helps you fund your graduate degree, it also helps you gain valuable work experience, and broadens the scope of your learning, as you participate hands-on in specialized research work.

5. National Research Councils 

These are public sector distributors of investment in research projects and can be found in multiple countries, including Canada. Sometimes the investment might be program or discipline-specific, for example, NRC in Canada invests in researches on science and technology. The funding competition is quite competitive, and candidates need strong academic and professional backgrounds. The amount awarded can often cover tuition and expenses. Be sure to check the requirements of the institutes in your host country.

These are some of the few common sources and techniques of funding your graduate program academically and right from the beginning of your program. Keep an eye out for the next guide on how to fund your grad degrees on your own or outside your program.

Beyond the Blog

About the Author

A head shot of Srijani Datta

Srijani Datta

Graduate Student
Arts + Social Sciences › Political Science
OLC Writer
Srijani previously worked as an Editor at SFU-OLC until she successfully completed and defended her thesis in the fall of 2019. She is currently working full-time and awaiting graduation.
Jien Hilario photo
What’s in a Name? Coming to Terms With Labelling Myself as a Person With a Disability

If you were to see Jien on campus, you wouldn’t know that she had a disability. She does not use a wheelchair nor does she have a seeing eye dog. She has an invisible disability. In this article, Jien shares her journey on how she came to terms with labeling herself as a person with a disability. 

Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere
Why Doesn’t Canada Have a Disabilities Act?

It is 2018 and Canada has not yet implemented adequate protection and legislation for people with disabilities. When it comes to equality for all, Canada is falling far behind. In this article, Jien discusses the research and reality of why Canada needs a Disabilities Act.

We Can Do It!
How to Satisfy Your Inner Activist

When people think about social justice, they think of things like protests or hunger strikes, but the options don’t end there. These volunteer organizations can help you satisfy your inner activist.

You Might Like These... Professional Development, Graduate Students

SFU graduation
Applying to Graduate School: A Students Guide

Someone once said that you should write about what you know. So when I was asked by one of the Peer Education Coordinators to write a career-related blog for their website, I felt compelled to write about the process of applying for graduate school, as I am currently applying for several schools myself.

Ryan Schmidt
Treaty Negotiations with INAC

Being an arts and social sciences student means having a vast variety of career options open to us. One of them being a treaty negotiator at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC)! Read Ryan's blog to find out more about what this position entails. 

Autumn staring out into the distance, with a view of Peruvian mountains in the background
Scholarly Adventures in Peru

Q  & A's with Autumn Mochinski, a student who participated in a funded  international placement with the PAHO/ WHO to prepare an assessment of social  determinants and health and Tuberculosis in Lima, Peru.

You Might Like These... Graduate Students

photo of author smiling while holding a pipette and a test tube, working in a lab
The Proverbial Foot in the Door | Part One

Feeling stuck on the outside of the job market looking in? Need experience for a job but a job for experience? Read how one Master of Resource Management candidate made his way out of “the trap”.

Office at Microsoft
Career Change: Try Something New!

How can you get into a different industry than what you studied? Emy Sun studied electronics and later got a job at Microsoft as a software engineer. Find how how she made the transition and what it took to make it happen.

An arm holding up a diploma at graduation.
Listen Up Recent Graduates!

Congratulations on your new accomplishment! You are a proud SFU grad who is ready represent SFU and engage in global communities. Some of you may already know what you will be doing but some of you may still be wondering what the future would entail.