If you’ve just received notification of an acceptance to graduate school, you should celebrate and then consider a few more things. If you have applied to more than one program (which is advised and generally the case), you will want to wait to hear from all your possibilities and see what kinds of financing each program offers. You may also want to plan some campus tours if you have not yet visited some of the programs to which you applied. Some programs will have ‘admitted student’ programs just for the purpose of introducing newly admitted students to their graduate students and faculty. You can attend these introductory events without making a commitment to enroll.
Funding for graduate school can come in many forms with some awards based on merit and some on need. Funding can be a straight cash award that you can use for tuition and/or living expenses, and some funding just comes as tuition remission. Offers of teaching assistantships and research assistantships are also considered financial awards, although you will be required to work a certain amount of hours. Generally, your tuition will be covered, you will work a designated number of hours and you will also receive a small stipend to cover living expenses. As a graduate student you can also take out loans. Check out the Additional Funding Resources section if you are interested in applying for external funding from foundations and agencies.
Once you have received notification from all the programs to which you have applied, you can compare offers. This might also require you to make some trade-offs as one program might offer you more funding with a long-term research assistantship while another program offers you a straight cash award for the first semester. You will have to carefully consider your options and decide where you think you will have the best opportunity for success and what kind of financial aid best fits with your circumstances. Another cost to consider is re-location and travel, particularly if you are moving away from a primary social network in order to attend graduate school.
If you’ve received more than one acceptance you may also want to try and negotiate a different funding package at the program that is your #1 choice. US News and World Reports offers 5 Steps to Getting More from your Graduate School and Academia Stack Exchange offers some ideas about Negotiating your PhD Funding Offer. Veritas, a privately owned test prep and admissions consulting company offers The Guide to Graduate School Financial Aid.