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Special advice for three types of students: PhD, international and certificate students

Most of my work in the scholarship field focuses on American students at the beginning of the college pipeline. International students or those seeking advanced degrees will find it much more difficult to obtain scholarships. Students who are taking professional certificate courses are faced with similar difficulty as the majority of scholarship providers in the United States focus on traditional students, who are U.S. citizens, earning a two- or four-year undergraduate degree. 

These special groups should consider the following advice when trying to obtain money for their studies:

International students

The best source of funding to study at a U.S. school may be the scholarship providers in your own country. You can also check with foundations or organizations that operate on a global scale. The majority of private scholarship sponsors in the U.S. require U.S. citizenship or permanent residency as an eligibility requirement. The dollars that are available to international students through flagship programs, such as the Fulbright, are highly competitive. Two excellent sources of information for international students wishing to study in the U.S. are InternationalStudent.com and the Institute of International Education. You should review these sites thoroughly to see if you qualify for any of the programs promoted there.

Post-graduate candidates

Funding for PhD or other advanced degree students is usually tied to a specific industry, research project or university. The funding, if available, is usually packaged as a fellowship, teaching assistantship or research assistantship. These coveted positions are extremely competitive and require intense academic involvement under the direction of project investigators (PIs) or lead instructors. If you want to be considered for these opportunities, you need to work on building an outstanding academic profile long before you present yourself as a possible candidate. Your undergraduate and graduate school accomplishments will serve as the basis for how you will be judged. 

Government departments or foundations, such as the United Negro College Fund, are often the primary source of this type of funding. Some universities may have their own scholarship sources for advanced degree students, but these funds are very limited. Another possible option is to seek scholarship opportunities through professional associations or industry groups that support emerging experts in a particular field. If you decide to pursue a PhD or other advanced degree, you will most likely be making significant sacrifices of your time and money.

Certificate students

Within specific industries, such as education and human resources, professionals can increase their job prospects or increase their salary potential by earning certification in a specific skill or subject. Certificate candidates usually do not qualify for scholarships because most traditional scholarships are awarded to students who are pursuing degree programs. If you are a certificate student, the most viable option for funding may be your employer or an industry trade group. Lastly, some state or local governments may offer incentive programs if there is a shortage of workers in a particular field and they want to boost educational attainment in that field.

While it is more difficult for these three groups to obtain traditional scholarships, they may be able to find sources from special-interest groups. These students should use a combination of Internet-based research, social networking and inquiries to employers, professional associations, universities and government agencies to identify possible scholarships.