Conference funding sources

Academic conference

Conferences are a great way for graduate students to build their academic and professional profiles, while also getting valuable experience for everyday activities. Whether you are presenting, chairing, or moderating a session, or just dropping in to listen to the ideas of other scholars, attending conferences is an essential activity for grad students to get and remain connected in the scholarly community and to learn the ropes from experienced scholars.

But what if you’ve been accepted to present at a conference, and you’re raring and ready to go, but are not super excited about dolling out the cash that it take to register and travel? Well, you’re going to have to figure out how to pay for it somehow, but most grad students don’t have extra money to spend spontaneously on travel, lodging, registration, and food — a two-day conference can quickly cost well over $500. Where should the money come from then?

Well, there may be external grants and scholarships (external to your institution) available for you to apply to. There is also commonly money floating around in departments that grad students can apply to use for conference travel, and/or the graduate school of your institution may have travel grants for grad students (particularly if you are presenting at the conference). Your department will want you to pursue sources of money in this order: 1) external sources, 2) University sources (the Graduate School), 3) the department’s internal funds.

External Grants and Scholarships

External grants and scholarships should be investigated first. Many websites exist with available grants. The U.S. government, for instance, operates a website,, which is dedicated to available grants and also has tools for writing and applying. Additionally, scholarship information is available for students to view. Even groups, like The Nonprofit Times, have developed lists that can be mined for potential grant and scholarship awards. All anyone needs to do is apply as directed, and he or she will be considered. Grants exist for nearly every discipline. Some are very specific, available to students who meet certain demographic profiles, for example, so finding just the right grant or scholarship will give a grad student an even better chance of getting the money needed.

Keep in mind, though, that the application and selection timeline for many external grants and scholarships can be lengthy, and depending on when you find them and submit your application, it can take quite a longer to get any actual money. Grants are highly competitive, and the application process can go through several rounds, as well as a review process that can last for months all on its own. If your conference is in two months, you may barely see the deadline for a grant submission pass before you would have to be checked in to your hotel. If you leave yourself enough time, however, these sources of funding are a very worthwhile option.

Internal Funding Sources

After exhausting your options for external funding, you should approach the graduate college at your university to try to tap into any funding they may have for grad students. Usually, a university’s graduate college has at least some funds set aside for student travel expenses. All that’s usually required is filling out the proper form and turning it in to your school’s grad office, likely with a signature from your faculty advisory as well. Your university can turn around a decision and disburse funds much faster than a government or private grant can. If you are eligible and approved, you may get your hands on the money within a matter of weeks.

But the graduate college is not the only source of funding at your university. Individual departments often do the same thing for graduate students, setting aside endowment funds for student academic travel expenses. So, be sure to ask your department’s graduate coordinator, graduate office assistant, and/or your advisor about any internal options for conference travel funds. All it takes is a little bit of research, or a properly asked question in the department, and you may be pleasantly surprised about the financial resources available to you. You might even get extra lucky and receive funds from both your department and the graduate college!

There are plenty of ways to go about getting funding for conference travel. Grants and scholarships are great opportunities, but the power of a grad student’s home university should never be discounted. Checking in with your advisor, department chair, or anyone else in the know can lead to great financial opportunities to make sure you are able to learn and grow as the academic professional you want to be. After all, universities want their graduate students going to conferences; it’s good for the students and good for the university’s profile, so most are willing to do whatever it takes to get students out there.

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Zach Gasior

Zach Gasior

Zach graduated from the University of Michigan in 2008 with his B.A. in English Literature, and from Michigan State University College of Law in 2010 with his J.D. Currently, Zach is teaching Composition at the University of Toledo while working toward his Masters in English with a focus on teaching writing. Contact Zach by email at

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