By ProFellow Founder, Dr. Vicki Johnson
I recently led a free workshop on how to “Find 5+ Fully Funded Graduate Programs to Achieve Your Career Goals”. Many people who attended were surprised by the results of the simple strategies that I teach on how to find fully funded masters and doctoral programs in every discipline in the US and Canada, as well as other parts of the world! If you can achieve full funding for your graduate degree, you can graduate without any student debt (just as I did!).
Those who are well-versed in the inner knowledge of scholarly research and teaching in the U.S. higher education system – or the academe as these folks like to call it in Latin – assume that it is common knowledge that many graduate students receive pay and full tuition waivers from the universities where they are enrolled. But let me tell you – this is NOT common knowledge, particularly not among first-generation college students, immigrants, community college transfers, and other “non-traditional” students who finished their undergraduate studies later in life after first working or serving in the military.
Even as a traditional graduate of an Ivy League university at the age of 22, I did not learn about “fully funded” master’s and doctoral programs until my mid-30s, when a professor I met through my Fulbright award offered me the opportunity to achieve my PhD with full funding. So, I’ve made it my personal mission to share this information widely through the ProFellow.com platform! I’m going to answer here your burning questions about fully funded graduate programs and how to find them in any discipline.
What is a fully funded graduate program?
A “fully funded” doctoral or master’s program is a graduate degree program that offers a “full funding” package to ALL students accepted to the program. A full funding package from the university, typically offered at acceptance, includes a full tuition waiver plus an annual living stipend, typically $15,000 to $45,000 USD per year, and you receive this funding for the duration of your studies (2-5 years).
A full funding package can be offered to an accepted student in the form of a “no-strings-attached” named fellowship, usually awarded only to the top 5-10% of applicants. More commonly, full funding is offered in the form of a Graduate Research or Teaching Assistantship, which is a part-time job with the university that is exclusively for graduate students. As a Graduate Assistant employed by the university, you will work part-time for the university (typically 10-20 hours per week), and in exchange, you’ll receive a stipend (aka a salary) and full tuition and fee waivers as a benefit of employment. As a Graduate Assistant, you will be required to provide research, teaching or administrative assistance to the university while you are a student, but this work is often complementary to your studies and provides valuable work experience to add to your CV or resume.
Graduate programs that are not “fully funded” may still offer full or partial merit-based fellowships and Graduate Assistantships to some accepted applicants.
As most of us know, not all graduate programs offer full funding. So which ones do?
Full funding packages are customarily offered in some (but not all!) full-time, on-campus, research-based graduate programs. Research-based graduate degrees, such as an MSc (Master of Science) or PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), are geared towards people who want to conduct research in their careers.
Most graduate degree programs you’ve likely heard of are non-funded professional degrees, like the MD (Doctorate of Medicine), JD (Juris Doctorate, for people who want to become lawyers), and MBA (Master of Business Administration) and are geared towards people in professional career tracks. These practice-based degree programs that are primarily coursework rarely ever offer significant funding awards or Assistantships.
However, there are fully-funded research-based graduate school options in disciplines like Medicine, Law and Business that offer full funding – keep reading!
What is the difference between a research-based graduate degree and a professional graduate degree?
A research-based degree is one that typically: 1) culminates in a research thesis or dissertation, 2) includes coursework on research methods and 3) is advertised to people who are interested in careers in scholarly research and university-level teaching. A professional degree is one that is geared towards people in practice-based career tracks and primarily offers coursework to prepare you for careers in the private and public sectors. Both master’s and doctoral programs can be professional in nature. For example, the EdD, the Doctorate of Education, is a professional degree providing advanced coursework for educators and administrators who are in professional career tracks, while the PhD in Education is a research-based degree for people who would like to do education research.
The other big difference between research-based and professional graduate degrees is that many research-based graduate programs provide full funding awards to incoming students in the form of Graduate Research and Teaching Assistantships, while professional degrees rarely offer any type of funding. Universities invest funding in research students through Assistantships and fellowships because these students are being taught the skills that can also help faculty execute their research and support the teaching of their university classes.
On the other hand, professional degree programs (and especially online degree programs) serve as a source of revenue for universities.
The good news: you CAN pursue a research-based master’s or doctoral degree and still pursue a professional, non-academic track when you finish. So if funding is an issue, I would encourage you to look into research-based master’s and PhD programs that offer Assistantships.
How do you find fully funded doctoral programs?
The first way to begin your search is to target PhD programs specifically, since this is a research-based degree. Start with a Google search that includes: PhD + your target discipline + “full funding” (in quotations). You can also try in place of “full funding” the phrases “fully funded” or “full financial support”. The quotations are important because they signal to Google that you are seeking websites with those exact phrases.
So, for example, if you are seeking a fully funded PhD program in Psychology, try this Google search:
PhD psychology “full funding”
PhD psychology “fully funded”
PhD psychology “full financial support”
When your search results are returned, be sure to skip past all the Google Ads! Those are typically for for-profit and non-funded graduate programs.
Look at the websites of universities as well as ProFellow.com articles (like Fully Funded PhD Programs in Psychology) that come up in your search! Our ProFellow articles have done some of this work for you!
For the full list of ProFellow’s fully funded PhD articles in more than 50 disciplines, see How to Fully Fund Your PhD.
How do you find fully funded master’s programs?
At the master’s level, full funding awards are less common but they can be found! However, at the master’s level, university websites typically don’t mention “full funding”. If they offer full funding opportunities, they are more likely to say master’s students can or will receive a Graduate Research or Teaching Assistantship. Keep in mind when searching for fully funded master’s programs that you’ll need to target research-based degrees, as professional master’s degrees rarely offer full, or even partial, funding.
Therefore, if you are seeking a fully funded master’s program in Public Health, for example, try this Google search:
master’s public health “Assistantships”
Again, when your search results are returned, be sure to skip past all the Google Ads! Those are typically for for-profit and non-funded graduate programs.
Look at the websites of universities as well as ProFellow.com articles that come up in your search (including Fully Funded Master’s Programs in Public Health and Global Health)! Our ProFellow articles have done some of this work for you!
For the full list of ProFellow’s fully funded master’s articles in 16 disciplines, see How to Fully Fund Your Master’s Degree.
Are there fully funded MD programs?
In recent years, some “tuition-free” MD programs have emerged, thanks to generous donors to some of the country’s top medical schools. This article describes some top medical schools that offer full funding to 100% of incoming students including New York University, Cleveland Clinic, and Kaiser Permanente School of Medicine. Some other universities, like Cornell University, offer full funding to students who qualify for need-based financial aid.
However, these “tuition-free” programs are few and far between, and extremely competitive to get into. Another option is to pursue a fully-funded joint MD-PhD program, which is a research-based option that will provide funding for BOTH degrees. The joint MD-PhD is a graduate degree pathway for people who want to become medical scientists. These programs integrate research and clinical training experiences, where you’ll learn to conduct hypothesis-driven research in a mentored environment. Learn more about the MD-PhD degree here.
For example, the John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD offers full funding for their MD-PhD students. All eligible applicants who are admitted to the MD-PhD Program are considered for funding under the Medical Scientist Training Program. This program, supported by the National Institutes of Health, provides full tuition, stipend, and insurance for students. There are many more examples of fully funded MD-PhD programs as well.
Are there fully funded JD programs?
Unlike the small number of “tuition-free” MD programs available, currently, there is no such option as a “tuition-free” JD program. While this article provides some ideas for universities that offer some financial aid, such as the University of Florida and the University of Arizona, 75% of law school students rack up significant student debt to achieve their JD (the average cumulative debt amount is $160,000!). There are many horror stories of people who have accrued several hundred thousand dollars in student debt from law school, with no clear path to pay it off, even with a generous lawyer’s salary.
However, there is one unique option to fully fund a JD! That is the fully funded research-based joint JD-PhD. The JD-PhD dual degree is geared towards candidates who want to work in academia, teaching at the university-level and doing scholarly research in law-related subjects.
For example, Northwestern University in Chicago, IL provides full funding—including tuition and living expenses—for six academic years and three summers, for up to five students per year in their JD-PhD program.
There are many more examples of fully funded JD-PhD programs as well.
Are there fully funded MPA programs?
The Master of Public Administration (MPA) is a popular professional degree for people in public service, government and non-profit career tracks. Unfortunately, the MPA rarely offers full or partial funding and most students pay for some or all of this degree out-of-pocket. This is particularly challenging given that social impact positions in the public sector pay less on average than those in the corporate and private sectors.
However, there are a few shining examples of universities that offer full funding packages to all accepted students! The Master of Public Policy Program at Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy, provides merit-based scholarships to all accepted MPP applicants who are not receiving full funding from outside sources. Also, the Princeton University School of Public and International Affairs also offers full funding to all incoming MPA and MPP candidates so they can pursue careers in public service without the burden of student debt. There are also many scholarships and fellowships available to fully fund an MPP or MPA degree.
It’s important to know that although the MPA degree is a popular option for people working in the public sector, an MPA is not a “required” degree for advancement. The thing is, most people in senior leadership positions in the public sector have a graduate degree, and this is why having a graduate degree has become a signature of career advancement in these fields.
The good news: there is no need to go into debt for a graduate degree while working in the public sector! Many people can advance into leadership positions in the public sector through many types of graduate degrees, including those that are discipline-specific. A fully funded master’s degree that is research-based and in a specific discipline can provide you with technical skills and subject matter expertise that are valued in the public sector, such research-based degrees in Public Policy, Finance, Communications, Education, International Relations, History, and Engineering.
Therefore, if you are considering an MPA to advance in your government or non-profit career track, consider a fully funded research-based master’s degree in your discipline of work and focus. To find some great options, try these examples in your Google search:
master’s public policy “Assistantships”
master’s urban planning “Assistantships”
master’s sustainability “Assistantships
That’s just a few ideas! For the full list of ProFellow’s fully funded master’s articles in a wide variety of disciplines, see How to Fully Fund Your Master’s Degree.
Are there fully funded MBA programs?
The Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is a popular degree for people working in the private sector, such as in large and small businesses and in corporate consulting. MBA graduate programs are often a cash cow for universities because many corporate employers pay for their employees to undertake these programs. Also, it’s expected that those pursuing an MBA will be moving into lucrative corporate career tracks – which is not always the case! Because of the profitability of MBA programs, an entire industry of part-time, “executive”, online and “short-term intensive” MBA programs have cropped over the last two decades, and just like their full-time, on-campus version, few MBA programs offer substantial funding awards or financial aid of any sort. Most MBA students are on the hook for most or all of their tuition and expenses.
That said, there are a few MBA programs offering incoming students the opportunity to undertake a paid Graduate Research or Teaching Assistantship. These change often, so do your Google search and see what comes up for you! Google:
master’s business administration “Assistantship”
Like the MPA degree (discussed above), there is no need to go into debt for an MBA to advance in the private sector. While many big employers state in their job postings that an “MBA is preferred”, it’s rarely required. I know many, many people who have moved into extremely competitive corporate leadership positions without an MBA. That said, as a job candidate with a limited professional network or work experience, you may find yourself at a disadvantage without an MBA or comparable graduate degree.
The good news is there are comparable master’s programs in business-related disciplines that fully fund their students! These include fully funded Master’s degree programs in Accounting, Finance, Communications, Data Science, Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Statistics.
Check out ProFellow’s compiled a list of comparable fully funded master’s programs here: Fully Funded MBA Alternatives: Graduate Degrees and Fellowships
Are there fully funded MFA programs?
Yes. Tons! Few people know that many Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs often offer full funding and Assistantships. Just try this example in Google and you’ll see what I mean:
MFA creative writing “full funding”
For a quick start, go right to our articles on fully funded MFA programs in Studio and Visual Arts, fully funded MFA programs in Creative Writing, fully funded MFA programs in Graphic Design, and fully funded MFA programs in Film.
Are there fully funded online graduate programs?
Unfortunately, no. Universities tend to reserve graduate student funding for full-time, on-campus students. Part-time and online programs that are geared toward working professionals often serve as a source of revenue for the university, and therefore, students in these programs typically are not offered scholarships, fellowships or Graduate Assistantships. They are also less likely to be eligible for external fellowships. Therefore, it may be more affordable to attend graduate school full-time so that you can be eligible for these sources of internal university funding.
How competitive are graduate programs that offer full funding?
As you can probably guess, graduate programs that offer full funding are extremely competitive! They often accept less than 10% of the people who apply to them each year. That said, fully funded master’s and doctoral programs are located all over the U.S., at a wide variety of private and state universities and colleges, and are not necessarily more competitive than non-funded graduate degree programs offered at Ivy League and other “Top 20” schools with big names and reputations.
If you need funding for your graduate degree (and it’s clear from the stats, most of us do!), do your research on degrees that can help you achieve your career goals AND are fully funded. You might be surprised that the perfect fully funded program for you exists at a local university or lesser-known academic institution that specializes in your discipline.
You can also receive in-depth guidance and mentorship on achieving acceptance to fully funded (and primarily research-based) graduate degree programs through my award-winning Fully Funded Course and Mentorship Program. In this program, I provide step-by-step guidance on identifying fully funded graduate programs, how to identify what the selection committees are looking for in candidates and how to prepare a highly competitive application that includes an exceptional personal statement, resume or CV, recommendation letters, a research or project proposal and interview.
Learn more about my signature Fully Funded Course & Mentorship Program
Dr. Vicki Johnson is Founder and CEO of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, top Ph.D. scholar, Fulbright recipient and an award-winning social entrepreneur. She is the Creator and Director of Fully Funded, an award-winning online course and mentorship program for graduate school applicants seeking to find and win full funding.
© ProFellow, LLC / Vicki Johnson 2021, all rights reserved.