How to Fully Fund Your PhD


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 degree 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. 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, if you enter a funded PhD program and complete your first 2 years of coursework, you could suspend your studies once you receive a Master’s with ABD (All But Dissertation) distinction. A retired Cornell professor clued me in to this.

Below are links to my ongoing series of articles on fully-funded PhD programs:

Fully Funded PhD Programs in Public Policy And Public Administration
Fully Funded PhD Programs in Education
Fully Funded JD and PhD Programs in Law
Fully Funded PhD Programs in Communications
Fully Funded PhD and MFA Programs in Creative Arts, Writing and Film
Fully Funded PhD Programs in International Relations and International Development
Fully Funded PhD Programs in Computer Science
Fully Funded PhD Programs in Business

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.


Please sign up or log in to complete this action.