How to Fully Fund Your PhD

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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.

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
Fully Funded PhD Programs in Economics

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.

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  • historienne

    Your low end of the stipend is too low. I’ve seen 13-15K/year, even in fairly expensive parts of the country. These were humanities degrees, which may make a difference.

  • Vicki

    Wow, that is low! But I suppose better than nothing. Haven’t seen much of a rise in PhD stipends in the past few years despite the rise in cost-of-living. Any thoughts on getting by on a $13K stipend?

  • Madeleine

    The strategy specified in the last paragraph is frowned upon and is exactly why my university does not do a “walk through” masters option with its PhD students, and also why different courses are required for each program. And in my opinion, is not very ethical.

    For what it is worth, the minimum PhD stipend at my uni is $15k plus tuition and fees waiver. I am currently getting more, but I am funded by an external project and I also have to teach.

    • Vicki

      Many think it is unethical to make a commitment to do a PhD and stop at ABD, but there are some who choose this route because they cannot complete the dissertation for financial, professional or personal reasons. It would be interesting to hear from some who chose to stop at ABD.

  • Antwi

    I from Ghana and have a BSc. Computer Science and Executive MBA degrees . I wish to pursue a Phd degree in a school where I will receive full funding. Could you please give any lead/advice on that eg. the school, Phd degree etc

  • Vicki

    It takes a little research but there are several universities that offer full-funded to all of their PhD students in Computer Science: University of Birmingham (UK), Duke University (USA), University of Michigan, School of Engineering (USA), Brown University (USA),
    Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey (USA) and Columbia University (USA).

    Executive MBA normally do not normally offer funding or scholarships because students in these programs are working full-time in mid-management to executive level careers.

  • anusha

    pls provide me the full funding US universities which offer phd in image processing field . what score is needed to join in those universities.Please provide me the information,

  • Nigesh Kalorath

    Please help me to find any fully funded phd programme in psychology…

  • namazipour sara

    How to Fully Fund Your PhD ?
    I have
    master of science, biotechnical and medical apparatus and system.
    kiev,national aviation university ,nau ,kiev.ukraine.
    Bachelor of science ,medical engineering.
    National technical university of ukrain , kiev polytechnic institute,

  • Mohsen

    Is there any fully funded phd programme in religion?


    l HAVE COMPLETED Msc In Mathematics at KNUST in Ghana

  • Kennedy Osei

    i want to find out whether there are full funded scholarships for capacity building and Development program at phd level in any university

  • shabnam

    hi. i dont know how i can find a good university with full-funded for biomedical engineering phd.
    thanks a lot.

  • Laura

    Any information on fully funding doctorate in Education? I used to teach college and would love to go back and need a doctorate for that. Any information would help.


  • leila

    I’m from Iran and right now I’m preparing my thesis on Teaching English.I would really like to know about American universcities I could get a full fund in.
    Please help me.

  • Deblina

    Hey thank you for your article , but could you please provide some details regarding fully funded english phd courses?

  • Gregory

    Please, I hold MSC In International Business from Coventry University,UK. I want to know if there are fully funded PHD in Business related area.

    • Vicki Johnson

      I’ll be positing on fully-funded PhDs in Business next!

  • Milad

    Hey Please list the universities that offer scholarships for PhD.

  • Enieketin Celestine Eneware

    Please assist me to find a funded programme for a PHD in Sociolinguistics

  • Lilian Okomo

    l want fully funded PHd in sports science. thanks.

  • Ebenezer nortey

    i want fully funded PHD in fisheries management/science. thanks

  • Rajeev Ranjan


    I want to do fully funded phd in ICT for Sustainable development. Can someone suggest a good university to pick up and how to avail funding.


    • Mona

      Any clue on fully funded phd in economics in the US?

  • Josna Joseph

    Is it necessary to write both TOEFL and GRE to get full funded PhD program.??? Please give me the necessary details about it… Thank you…

    • Vicki

      Hi Joseph, it depends on the program. Most U.S. programs require both the TOEFL and GRE for admission. Programs outside the U.S. may have different requirements.

      • Josna Joseph

        Sir, i have completed my M.Sc in Biotechnology in May 2014. I am planning to do PhD in California…. Sir, i got my TOEFL score and its only 68/120. When i asked them that i am ready to retake the test, then they are telling that there is no point in retaking the exam, as the average of the two scores is considered. I need minimum 104/120 inorder to fund my PhD… So now they have asked me to write GRE exam…So how much should i score for GRE????…. Sir, could please tell me about retaking of TOEFL exam?? For how many times we can take the exam??? And which score is been considered???

  • Paul Myers

    Vicki, thanks for your thoughts and observations. Josna, a lot of it comes down to the specific program you’re applying for. I was fully funded for my MA and PHD programs at the University of California Santa Barbara. For smaller programs your acceptance is dependent on a professor willing to work with you. My research interests aligned with a professor and we communicated before I applied. The professor then “represented” me at the admissions meeting and asked that I be accepted. So my GRE scores and GPA were taken into consideration (all were high) but it was the professional relationship that helped. At the end of the day they want to make sure you’ll be a good fit in the program.

    For the GRE I’ve heard that you should only take it once unless you really mess up and think you could do a lot better the second time. If you submit one bad test score you can at least make the argument that you just had a bad day. However if you submit two bad test scores then they’ll know for sure you can’t get a good score.