Graduate school has a reputation for being expensive and it can be. But did you know that you can pursue earning a PhD for free? While it can cost anywhere from $12,000 (public institution) to $28,000 (non-profit private institution) per year to attend a PhD program, there are fully funded PhD programs that allow students to get their degrees for free.
Not only can students skip out on paying tuition and fees, but they may also receive a stipend that can cover their living expenses and health insurance, as well as get assistance to finance the research and travel necessary to earn their graduate degrees.
Attending a fully-funded PhD program can be one way to save money on education costs and to make obtaining one of these degrees more financially feasible.
What is a PhD Program?
PhD programs (also known as doctoral programs) give students the opportunity to do graduate-level research in the field of their choice and can range across a variety of subjects such as engineering, English, public health, and computer science.
The application process for PhD programs can be competitive and the programs themselves can be very time-consuming. Working while pursuing these specialized degrees can be challenging, which is why it can be so helpful when these programs offer an annual stipend.
What Does Fully Funded Mean?
While not all PhD programs are fully funded, some are and they include both full tuition reimbursement and a stipend to help cover the cost of living while pursuing the degree. Programs have varying funding requirements.
In some cases, students may receive a “no-strings-attached” fellowship where they are given funding but don’t owe the university anything in return aside from doing research for the university.
In many cases, to receive funding a student will need to work part-time for the university by providing teaching or administrative assistance. These experiences can give students an opportunity to build out their resume while helping them pay for graduate school.
More often than not, these fellowship positions are the main way to receive full funding to attend a PhD program and are commonly offered in research-based degree programs.
Some fellowships may be offered in the form of scholarships or stipends which are not usually taxed as income by the IRS. Some schools may offer assistantships, where students earn an income from the university, which can be taxed as income.
They are less commonly offered for professional degree programs. Generally, these positions are given to the doctoral students who are doing research in order to complete their theses or dissertations.
While all PhD programs have their own unique funding packages, many fully-funded PhD programs help cover the costs of:
Tuition and Fees
Typically, fully-funded PhD programs provide students with what are called “tuition waivers’ and they cover the cost of attending the university by paying for any tuition and university fees. In some cases book stipends, reduced-fare transit passes, and other benefits are given to students to lessen their financial burden.
Through either fellowship funding or working for the university, students can receive a stipend that covers some living expenses. These stipends can generally be used to pay for food, rent, and anything else they may need to cover.
These stipends aren’t always enough to cover a student’s full living expenses depending on the cost of living in their area and their lifestyle choices, especially during the summer as typically stipends are only given out during the academic year.
Students might choose to work or take out loans to cover the costs of living during the summer, but some programs do offer summer funding.
Recommended: Using Student Loans for Living Expenses Off Campus
Many doctoral programs include health insurance benefits, but this isn’t a guarantee, so it’s an important benefit to check for when applying for graduate school programs. It’s very common for these student health insurance packages to only allow students to receive health care at on-campus facilities. Some programs automatically enroll their students in one type of healthcare plan and others allow students to choose their plan during the annual open enrollment period.
If a student is married or has dependents, they may be able to add them to their student health insurance plan, but there may be an additional cost.
Research and Travel Funding
If necessary, some programs allow doctoral students to apply for funding to help them do their research (buying equipment, technology, textbooks, etc.) or to travel to conferences, archives, or summer programs. This is something students apply for on an as-needed basis and is not a guarantee.
In some cases, students will pay the costs up front and then be reimbursed. Grants and scholarships can also help cover research and travel expenses, so students could apply for those to get their hands on extra funding.
Recommended: Finding & Applying to Scholarships for Grad School
How to Find a Fully Funded PhD Program
While there are platforms such as FindAPhD that allow you to search for PhD programs that are fully funded, one of the best ways to discover which programs are fully funded is to do research into a variety of programs.
Before submitting an application to a PhD program, the student will want to research the program fully. That includes learning more about the university’s resources, their faculty members, and what their requirements are for graduation.
Look into the specifics of the funding options available at each university you plan to apply to, as PhD programs may address funding differently.
While some universities will automatically give grants or fellowships to their admitted students, other programs make their students complete a separate funding application. These applications can require submitting letters of recommendations or personal statements and can have deadlines that are different from the application deadline for the doctoral program.
Examples of Fully Funded PhD Programs
It’s possible to find fully funded PhD programs across a variety of subjects at many different schools. From a PhD in biological sciences at Harvard, to education at Stanford, to nursing at Duke, fully funded PhD programs run the gambit.
Paying Down Student Loan Debt
If a student has student loan debt from an undergraduate or master’s degree that they want to pay down before or while attending a PhD program, student loan refinancing could help them save money in interest over the life of the loan and pay down their debt faster.
Student loan refinancing involves taking out a new loan at a new interest rate and/or a new term that is ideally better than the current rate or terms that the borrower currently has. It is possible to refinance both federal and private student loans.
It’s worth noting that federal student loans carry special benefits and protections such as income-driven repayment plans and economic hardship programs that borrowers will lose access to if they refinance to a private student loan.
SoFi offers student loan refinancing with flexible terms and competitive fixed or variable rates for qualifying borrowers. The application process is entirely online and there is live customer support available to assist applicants seven days a week.
A fully-funded PhD program can help students pursuing advanced degrees pay for their education. Fully funded PhD programs can vary from school to school, but generally cover the cost of tuition and may involve a stipend to help students cover their living expenses. In some cases, PhD candidates will be required to do research or teach as part of the agreement to receive funding.
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