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The question is hypothetical, but it came up in a conversation and I'd like to see if we can come up with a logical analysis and conclusion. For various reasons, graduate students might not be inclined to apply for funding.

By funding I mean grants or scholarships intended to support graduate students directly in the form of money given directly to the student. That is, I am not talking about applying for research scholarships intended to fund an experiment, buy equipment, etc. Here are a few (made up) examples.

Case 1 (Differential). I get 20000 of internal departmental funding but be encouraged by the department to apply for external funding. If I then get 5000 scholarship, then the departmental policy might be to drop the internal funding to 15000, so I don't apply for it.

Case 2 (Rich Student). I am very wealthy and I have no need for funding. I am a brilliant student and could probably get many different scholarships but I chose not to because I feel other students with less money need the money more.

The "Rich Student" scenario is slightly different than the "Differential" scenario. If I am rich then for sure some other poorer student could have gotten the money, whereas in the "Differential" scenario, I am now only getting 15000 so another student will get the 5000 anyway.

The problem with not applying for scholarships is that I don't get scholarships, and in many fields winning scholarships is good for your academic career. Perhaps in some fields this is more important than others.

Overwhelmingly I've heard that one should always apply for scholarships regardless of circumstances because of this. Of course theoretically, I could bypass my "rich student morality" by using it to do something useful for the community.

Personally, although I am not in these situations, I feel that it is most beneficial to always apply for scholarships, I would just like to have some kind of evidence that support this.

So to put this in a definitive question: for graduate students, is there ever a reason not to apply for at least a few available scholarships?

1 Answer 1

The "Differential" argument doesn't really even hold as much weight as you'd think, because many departments will reward you with a bonus for bringing in an outside fellowship. Then it becomes even more of an incentive to obtain an outside fellowship.

In addition to this, external awards make you more attractive to potential advisors, since you don't cost them as much in the long run to support you. In some cases, this even makes the difference between being able to work on a project of one's own choosing, versus a project for which the advisor has funding.

So, the only reasons I can think of why one wouldn't want to apply for at least some sort of fellowship support are:

  • Being a fantastically rich student, who can pay his own tuition and stipend support for the full duration of the program, or
  • Being a student of extremely limited means, who can't afford the costs of reporting GRE or scores or transcripts to the various funding agencies. (In many cases, though, "hardship waivers" are available that renders even this point moot.)