Cornell University

In This Section:


Many forms of financial assistance are awarded primarily on the basis of academic accomplishment, talent, or promise. The terms used to describe merit-based types of aid are not always clearly defined. Such terms as grant, stipend, graduate assistantship, and fellowship are defined individually by an institution or department, so it is no surprise to find variations of meaning. One thing that merit-based awards have in common is that they all require an applicant's academic qualifications to fall within a certain eligibility range. Generally speaking, assistantships, fellowships, and grants are the most common forms of assistance available to graduate students.


Assistantships, the most common type of graduate financial assistance, usually come in the form of teaching, research, or graduate assistantships. Students assist in the instruction, research, or other functions of an institution's schools, departments, and/or individual professors.

Because both research and teaching assistantships are generally allocated and administered by the graduate schools, department programs, or individual faculty members, early contact with the appropriate source is critical. This contact can be made either before or after applying and should involve identification of the applicant's academic interests and background.


Fellowships are considered a very prestigious form of financial assistance at the graduate level. They are used by universities to attract students with the highest possible qualifications. The range of the stipend will vary from school to school, but most fellowships will include full tuition coverage.


Grants are sums of money awarded for specific activities on a project basis by funding sources such as government agencies, foundations, and corporations. Research grants made to institutions or individual faculty members form a major source of graduate student support through the provision of assistantships to carry out the terms of the grant.

Finding Fellowships and Grants

Locating fellowships and grants is much more difficult than finding other forms of financial aid since there are so many possible sources. However, refer to the bibliography which lists directories to these sources. On campus, the Cornell Career Services Library has the most comprehensive collection of directories and individual fellowship/grant listings. It is highly recommended to explore these resources as soon as one considers advanced study. The deadlines and requirements for the specific assistance programs vary greatly, and the number of opportunities may initially be overwhelming, so plan to spend a reasonable amount of time exploring these sources.