Skip to main content

Cornell University

Merit-Based Support

Many forms of financial assistance are awarded primarily on the basis of academic accomplishment, talent, or career intentions. The terms used to describe merit-based aid are not always clearly defined. Such terms as grant, scholarship, stipend, graduate assistantship, and fellowship are defined individually by an institution or department, so it is no surprise to find variations of meaning. Merit-based awards typically require an applicant's qualifications to fall within a certain eligibility range.  

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

Because research and teaching assistantships are generally allocated and administered by departments or individual faculty members, it is important to make contact with them early. This contact can be made either before or after applying and should involve identification of the applicant's academic interests and background. Candidates can write directly to the department chairperson where they are applying and indicate they wish to be considered for department or university-administered funds.  

Fellowships are considered a highly prestigious form of financial assistance at the graduate level and are used by universities to attract students with the strongest 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 by providing assistantships to carry out the terms of the grant.

Locating fellowships and grants is more difficult than finding other forms of financial aid since there are so many possible sources. The deadlines and requirements for the specific assistance programs vary greatly, and the number of opportunities may initially be overwhelming, so plan to begin early and spend time exploring these sources.