Financing the MA, MS, PhD

The better PhD programs will support you with full or partial tuition and stipend.  The stipend will stipulate that you conduct research or teach 10-15 hours weekly. If you are at the top of the applicant pool, you may be awarded a duty-free fellowship, which means that you can commence research upon arrival.  Such will reduce your time in the doctoral program by a year or so.

Typically, stipends cover living expenses if you are reasonably frugal. Plan on working summers, preferably as a researcher or consultant.  You may be permitted to teach summer courses at your home institution or you can seek opportunities at neighboring colleges and community colleges.  It might not hurt to borrow small sums (e.g., $5k annually) to alleviate financial stress that may beset you.

Sometimes parents are willing and able to support their children through graduate school.  You should factor this into the financial aid equation when deciding where to matriculate. Do not be discouraged if you have to put together a piecemeal package such as partial funding, part-time work and smallish loans to get through the program.  Students with partial funding often receive full funding in subsequent years if they do well.

It isn’t a good idea to pursue a doctorate unless you receive full or partial financial support (if you need it). While borrowing is the standard for professional degrees such as law, medicine etc., we do not advocate doing so to pay for a PhD in the arts & sciences because the risks are high. For instance, if you decide not to pursue the PhD, or if you do not pass the qualifying exam and are forced to leave the program, you will have incurred debt of $100,000 or more with no credential to show for it. (Some institutions award a master’s degree as a consolation prize to borderline students, i.e., those good enough to pass courses but who don’t do well on the doctoral exam, or to students who no longer wish to pursue a PhD. )

Admission to a PhD program sans any funding generally means that you were acceptable but didn’t rank highly enough in the competition to get funding. If so, try contacting a faculty member on the admissions committee to find out why, especially if you have met. 

Should you learn about a weakness in your application, be prepared to rectify it.  If it is your grades, take 3-5 courses in your field while you are working and do well, i.e., B+, A-, A, A+.   Find a field-specific internship, even if it offers little to no compensation.  If your scores are at issue, retake the GRE after plenty of rigorous preparation. If you learn that your recommendations leave something to be desired, reconsider your reference list in the subsequent round. If you are given the cold shoulder by a department that has admitted you without support or has declined your application, take it off your list and move on.

To bypass this dilemma, however, we encourage you to steer clear of programs where you may be in the bottom third of your class, as you may find yourself struggling, both financially and intellectually, if you enroll.  Your graduate experience will be unhappy, if not altogether unsuccessful.

In any event, you will be asked to submit a Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year, which is required of all applicants and enrolled students.  This is an annual exercise that helps institutions make optimal use of their limited resources.