A few years ago when I first began looking at Master’s and PhD programs, I wasn’t aware that many universities fully fund their doctoral students. Full funding normally includes full tuition and a stipend for living expenses for the four to six years a student is in the doctoral program. Because I didn’t know this, I considered a PhD impossible and pursued a Master’s instead, taking out both a federal and private loan to fund my studies.
I learned of fully funded doctoral programs while looking for fellowships for others, and I was very fortunate to enter a PhD program last year at Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand that is fully funding my studies. I never would have considered Massey University previously if I had to pay for my doctoral studies.
In most cases, finding and entering a doctoral program with full funding is easier that winning a competitive external doctoral fellowship, like the Hertz Foundation Graduate Fellowship. Not only are these external fellowships more competitive, but often they only fund the 3rd, 4th and 5th year of your PhD study, when you are completing your dissertation research. Therefore, when considering a doctorate, research all the potential PhD programs in your academic field, including small and lesser-known schools both in the U.S. and abroad, and ask the admissions office if they fully fund every admitted student. This may have a major impact on the schools you consider applying to.
Just a small sample of PhD programs that are fully-funded:
All PhD students at Columbia University get full funding. Columbia has particularly strong programs in medicine and sciences, as well as public administration and policy.
Boston College’s Department of Psychology offers a four- to five-year, full-time, fully-funded, research-oriented doctoral program. The ratio of faculty to doctoral students is approximately 1 to 1.
Students admitted Duke University’s PhD program in Military History receive multi-year funding packages from the graduate school, including tuition waivers, a stipend, and a teaching assistantship or gradership.
Most doctoral students in the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering doctoral program are admitted under a policy of full support. Doctoral students admitted with financial support who enter with a master’s degree will receive four years of guaranteed support as long as standards are achieved and milestones are met.
One thing to keep in mind is that “full funding” may be substantially less than what you are earning in the private sector and is likely not enough to support a family. Yearly stipends normally range from $18,000 – $30,000. Smaller cities have lower costs of living, so another major factor in your consideration should be location.
Some people also consider fully funded doctoral programs to fund a Master’s degree. While frowned upon in academia for obvious reasons, you could enter a funded PhD program, complete your first 2 years of coursework, and suspend your studies once you receive a Master’s with ABD (All But Dissertation) distinction. A retired Cornell professor clued me in to this. But you didn’t hear it from me!
Also sign up to check our fellowships database to learn about other opportunities to fund graduate and doctoral study.
© Victoria Johnson 2013, all rights reserved.
Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan face a dismal economy – their unemployment rate stands out at 11%. In response, the Wounded Warriors Program developed a two-year fellowship program to provide 25 wounded or disabled veterans with the opportunity to work in a Congressional district office.
Justin Donato joined the Navy and spent several years as an operations specialist on the guided missile cruiser USS Ticonderoga. His service-related injuries – partial hearing loss, tendinitis in his knees, and torn cartilage in his wrist – made him eligible for the Wounded Warriors Fellowship. As a veterans’ case worker in the Pensacola district office of Rep. Jeff Miller, Donato feels like he is making a difference.
“I can’t relate to a Vietnam vet because I wasn’t there, but what I can do is listen and do what I can to help,” Donato says. “Every case is different.”
The California district office of Rep. Jeff Denham was one of the offices selected to participate in this year’s fellowship program.
“Our region is home to thousands of proud veterans, and I look forward to welcoming another veteran to my staff, ” said Rep. Denham. “Our Veterans are among our countries greatest leaders and it is very important that we do all we can to ensure they have jobs here at home.” Read more.
This program is limited to veterans who have served on active duty since September 11, 2001, have a minimum 30 percent service-connected disability rating from the VA and less than 20 years of service.
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Join the crowd
Our step-by-step guide for a competitive fellowship application
1. Create a plan
2. Project proposal ideas
3. Talk to current / former fellows
4. Prepare an effective resumé
5. Find a host institution
6. Write a compelling personal statement
7. Prepare a strong project proposal
8. Get great recommendation letters (P1)
9. Get great recommendation letters (P2)
10. Nail the individual and group interviews