Four Suggestions for Finding Your Financial Feet as a Graduate Student

Sept. 30, 2015

You have done a lot in the past three weeks. Unless you are one of the lucky few, this has probably included managing some financial uncertainties. Hopefully you have most of your questions answered by now. But the University of Arizona is a big place and you might find that you have to run around in circles a bit before getting issues resolved.

Here are few suggestions for students trying to navigate the financial milieu of graduate school.

  1. Get your pressing financial questions answered. Your graduate coordinator is often the best person to ask, especially for questions regarding departmental funding such as GA or GAT positions. If he or she cannot answer your questions, here are some other suggestions you might find helpful:

    1. In UAccess under “Helpful Links” there is a “Getting Started Guide.” The guide includes tutorials on topics such as how to read your account.

    2. The Bursar’s Office will respond to questions via email. They can be emailed from here:

    3. Contact the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid. You can visit them, call, or email your question:

  2. Become familiar with how graduate student funding works in your department. You can begin with this basic overview of graduate funding. But every department is different. Some guarantee GA or GAT positions for a certain number of years, other departments rely on faculty grants, and other departments expect graduate students to find employment. Talk to advisors, other graduate students, business officers, and graduate coordinators to figure out how most students in your department support themselves throughout their graduate program.

  3. Sign up for funding alerts. Go through the UA Library’s Grants page ( to connect to Pivot and Grant Forward, which are two major funding databases. You will need to dedicate some time to figure out a search that works for you, but it is worth it! Once you find the right search terms, you can set up a personalized email that will alert you to possible funding opportunities.

    1. Pivot is a database developed through the Community of Science with over 400,000 funding opportunities. After you find the search terms that work for you, save the search to create a weekly funding alert specifically for your research interests.

    2. Grant Forward updates their database of funding opportunities twice weekly and also has a grants alert that you can receive.

  4. Make a plan. Rarely does funding suddenly rain down on graduate students from above. Hope that it will. But also make a plan to apply for the fellowships for which you are eligible when you are eligible for them (don’t wait, eligibility seldom lasts!). And plan to pursue departmental fellowships or GA/GAT positions when possible. Figure out when you will have to find a job and when you need to accept loans.

Our office, the Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement, helps students applying for external funding – a relatively small sliver of the graduate student funding world. We are delighted when students receive large fellowships that will support them for multiple years. But the truth is that a relatively small percentage of graduate students receive these large fellowships; it is more likely that you will piece together a job or two, a GA position, and a few small fellowships. Apply for the large fellowships. But be sure that you have a plan B and a plan C, plans that involve living within your means and keeping your eyes open for all possible funding opportunities.


The GradFunding Newsletter is a service of the University of Arizona Graduate College, Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement. You may reuse this article but please acknowledge Shelley Hawthorne Smith and the University of Arizona Graduate College Office of Fellowships and Community Engagement.

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