You have done the soul searching. You have thought about how things might turn out when you are done. In fact, you are very optimistic about the outcome. You are now ready to apply to graduate school. Now you have to figure out how to get graduate school funding. Learn about the three options.
The first place to start in your search for graduate school funding should be the academic department you hope to be admitted into. It is also the easiest form of funding to receive because it is usually part of the admission application process, so you do not have to file a separate funding application. Many fully-funded PhD programs and some master's programs in the United States have it set up in such a way that your funding package is tied to your admission. Therefore, all admitted students are automatically funded.
In some other departments, funding and admission applications are one and the same but being admitted does not necessarily mean being funded. Therefore, accepted students may receive full, partial or no funding offers at all.
Most full funding packages for PhD programs come as a tuition scholarship or grant and a stipend, which is either a research assistantship (you will have research duties), teaching assistantship (you will have teaching duties) or a fellowship (outright no strings attached funding).
Outside of your department, another place to look at is the university itself. Some universities offer funds for graduate study that are outside of the departments. In some cases, you will have to file a separate application for this kind of funding. In others, you just need to check off a box on your admission application that you are interested in being considered. And yet in others, your department nominates you and you really do not have any say in how that happens. Whichever form it takes, there could be some funding directly from the university to which you get accepted and you should research what form it takes and if you are eligible for it.
There are so many sources of funding outside of the university and they range from foundations and scholarship bodies, to civic and professional organizations, to government agencies like the National Science Foundation. Applying for these kinds of funding usually involves a separate and often lengthy application process depending on the amount of money involved. You should make sure you are well organized and not spreading yourself too thin when it comes to how many applications you file. Focus on places where you will get the most reward for your efforts.
The financial aid office, student financial services office or office of fellowships at your university will have information and most likely a list of these outside funding sources to which you can apply.
A Word on Loans
Some people may decide to resort to student loans as a last option if they do not get any other kind of graduate school funding. While every individual knows his or her personal circumstances and there may be very good reasons to borrow during your PhD program, loans should not be the major source of your graduate school funding. Use all your resources to apply to schools that will fund your PhD studies because it should really be no other way. You have no idea how long it is eventually going to take you to get your doctorate, you are out of the workforce and therefore losing out on earnings; you should not compound that by getting a loan.