What Is a Fully Funded PhD Program and How Do I Find One?

By Jacqueline DeMarco · April 24, 2023 · 6 minute read

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What Is a Fully Funded PhD Program and How Do I Find One?

Graduate school has a reputation for being expensive, and it can be. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of a PhD program is nearly $33,000 per year. And students typically take six years or more to finish their degree.

The good news is that a fully funded PhD program can offset part or all of these costs. In addition to covering tuition and fees, these programs typically provide a stipend to help pay for living expenses. Some may also finance the research and travel necessary for students to complete their graduate degrees.

Let’s take a closer look at fully funded PhD programs and how they can help lower the cost of a degree.

Table of Contents

•   What Is a PhD Program?

•   What Does Fully Funded Mean?

•   How to Find a Fully Funded PhD Program

•   Examples of Fully Funded PhD Programs

•   Paying Down Student Loan Debt

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. They span a variety of subjects, such as engineering, English, public health, and computer science.

The application process for a PhD program 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 a program offers an annual stipend.

What Does Fully Funded Mean?

In a fully funded PhD program, the student typically receives 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. This means they receive funding but don’t owe the university anything aside from their research.

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 graduate fellowship positions are the main way to receive full funding to attend a Ph.D. 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.

Schools may also offer assistantships, where students earn an income from the university. Generally, these positions are given to doctoral students who are doing research in order to complete their theses or dissertations. Assistantships can be taxed as income.

While all PhD programs have their own unique funding packages, many fully funded programs are designed to help students cover a variety of costs. Here are some common ones.

Tuition and Fees

Typically, fully funded PhD programs provide students with so-called “tuition waivers.” The waivers cover the cost of attending the university, including tuition and fees. In some cases, book stipends, reduced-fare transit passes, and other benefits are included to lessen the student’s financial burden.

Recommended: How to Pay for Grad School

Living Expenses

Whether through fellowship funding or a university job, students in a fully funded Ph.D. program can receive a stipend to pay for food, rent, transportation, and other living expenses.

Depending on a student’s cost of living and lifestyle choices, these lump sums might not be enough to fully cover costs. This may be especially true during the summer, when stipends are less likely to be given out. If their program does not offer summer funding, students might choose to work part-time or take out loans to make ends meet.

Recommended: Using Student Loans for Living Expenses Off Campus

Health Insurance

While many doctoral programs include health insurance benefits, some do not. As you’re exploring graduate school programs, it’s a good idea to find out if it provides this important type of coverage.

Generally, student health insurance packages only cover care and services 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 for an additional cost.

Research and Travel Funding

If necessary, some programs allow doctoral students to apply for funding to help them conduct their research or 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.

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How to Find a Fully Funded PhD Program

There are sites that allow you to search for various Ph.D. programs around the world. But one of the best ways to discover which programs are fully funded is by conducting your own research.

Before submitting an application to a Ph.D. program, learn more about the university’s resources, faculty members, and requirements for graduation. Look into the specifics of the funding options available at each university you plan to apply to, as Ph.D. programs may address funding differently. Often, schools will include information about these opportunities on their website.

While some universities automatically give grants or fellowships to their admitted students, others make their students complete a separate funding application. These applications can require submitting letters of recommendation 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 Ph.D. programs across a variety of subjects at many different schools. From a Ph.D. 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 you have student loan debt from an undergraduate or master’s degree that you want to pay down before or during a Ph.D. program, you might consider exploring student loan refinancing. Refinancing could help you save money in interest over the life of the loan and pay down your 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 you currently have. It is possible to refinance both federal and private student loans.

Note 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.

The Takeaway

Pursuing a graduate degree can be expensive, but a fully funded Ph.D. program can offset all or part of the costs. Programs vary from school to school, but they typically cover the cost of tuition and may include a stipend to help cover living expenses and more. In some cases, PhD candidates will be required to do research or teach as part of the agreement to receive funding. Students can also explore other ways to cover the cost of school, including scholarships or grants.

In addition, PhD candidates who are paying off student loans from an undergraduate or master’s degree may want to consider student loan refinancing. Doing so could help save money in interest over the life of the loan and could even help them pay down the balance faster.

Refinancing could be a great choice for working graduates who have higher-interest graduate PLUS loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and/or private loans.

With SoFi, refinancing is fast, easy, and all online. We offer competitive fixed and variable rates.

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Student Loan Refinancing
If you are a federal student loan borrower you should take time now to prepare for your payments to restart, including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. (You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.) Please note that once you refinance federal student loans, you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans, such as the SAVE Plan, or extended repayment plans.

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