By ProFellow Founder Dr. Vicki Johnson
I recently gave a live presentation on specific strategies to find five or more fully funded graduate programs to achieve your career goals. Previous to this, I explained why you do not need to fear student debt when pursuing your master’s or doctoral degree. There are thousands of programs out there that will PAY you to attend! I completed my PhD with full funding, which means the university offered me a Graduate Assistantship at acceptance, which is a part-time job for master’s and doctoral students that offers you a full tuition waiver as an employment benefit and a stipend or salary for the work that you’ll do at the university. You also can get into a fully funded master’s or doctoral program if you know how to find these programs, which can be a little bit tricky.
Watch my video where I explain these 3 strategies in-depth with examples!
What kind of graduate programs offer full funding / Graduate Assistantships?
Typically you’ll find most full funding offers in PhD programs that are research-based. You can also find full funding offered in research-based master’s programs, as well as Fine Arts programs.
A lot of people don’t know that there are huge funding differences between research-based programs and professional programs. Unfortunately, there’s very little to no funding offered for online programs, part-time programs, executive programs, and doctorates that are created for practitioners or people in professional tracks.
If you’re considering a professional graduate program, an online graduate program, or a part-time graduate program, look a little bit more into full-time, research-based programs in your same discipline. For example, fully funded research-based or Fine Arts graduate programs include degrees such as the PhD, but also joint programs like a PhD-MD, or the PhD-JD. It’s very difficult to find funding for a standalone MD program, which is the degree that you need to become a physician; likewise, there is very little funding for a JD, which is the degree that you must get to become a lawyer. However, if you pursue a joint PhD-JD, you’ll be very happy to find that there are many fully funded joint programs.
In addition, there’s a big difference between professional master’s degrees and research-based master’s degrees. If you’re looking for a fully funded master’s program, you should be looking for a fully funded research-based master degree, regardless of the type of degree you are going for. If it is research-based, they may offer Graduate Assistantships. In addition, Master’s of Fine Arts programs often give full funding, typically in the form of a research or teaching Assistantship. So there are a lot of fully funded MFA programs across all different types of fine arts such as visual arts, creative writing, film, graphic design, you name it.
Graduate Assistantships are not offered to students in online or part-time graduate programs. You might find a rare exception, but generally online and part-time programs are created for working professionals. Because Graduate Assistantships require you to work 10 to 20 hours per week for the university, they usually do not offer them to online students because you’re not there on campus. If you’re going to school part-time, you’re probably working full-time, which means you probably do not have the capacity to do another job in addition to your full-time work and studies. If you are considering continuing to work full-time so that you can afford a graduate degree, I encourage you to open your mind to the idea that it could be cheaper for you in the long term to go full-time, to be eligible for full funding, and then move more quickly into a new job that may pay you more because you now have your graduate degree in hand.
Search Strategy #1: Do a Google Keyword Search
First we’re going to start with a simple Google keyword search. You can Google:
PhD + [your discipline] + “full funding” or “fully funded”
So if you were to look for a PhD in urban studies, you would Google: PhD urban studies “full funding”. When you Google that, my search yielded a variety of results, and at the top was a PhD in Urban Planning at USC Price (see video!) So, I clicked through on that to learn more about it. On the website, it says “incoming PhD students are fully supported for four years through a graduate assistantship that provides for tuition, stipends, and health and dental insurance. Students beyond a fourth year of study are often supported through teaching or research assistantships or funding from USC or other outside sources”. So this is a fully funded PhD program in Urban Planning!
There is less full funding at the master’s level, but there is funding out there. At the master’s level, they usually don’t use the terms like “full funding” or “fully funded”. You will primarily find that at the PhD level. What you want to look for are master’s programs that offer Graduate Assistantships. At the master’s level, sometimes they might offer you an Assistantship at acceptance. Other times you can apply for an Assistantship after you get into the program. What you want to know is how many students in the program get an Assistantship.
So for example, you might Google for the urban planning example: masters urban planning “assistantship”. I did find a Master’s of Urban Planning here at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They say on their website “in recent years, the department has provided approximately one-half or more of qualified master’s candidates with financial support in the form of fellowships, teaching or research assistantships, and full tuition and fee waivers”. So this means half or more of their master’s students in this program get full funding because they’re getting an Assistantship!
There’s a couple of different keywords that you should use because different websites are going to use different terms. You could try “assistantship,” “full funding,” “fully funded,” or “full financial support”. Also, outside the U.S. sometimes they are called studentships or instructorships. If you’re looking in the UK or other places, use those terms and you’ll find quite a few programs.
I really want you to be open-minded about the type and discipline of your degree because there are more options than you think to achieve your goals. For example, if your discipline search is too narrow, you might not find the right program. Sometimes people write to me and they say something like: “I can’t find a fully funded PhD program in non-profit leadership”. Keep in mind, nonprofit leadership is more of a dissertation topic than it is a discipline for an entire program. You could do a PhD dissertation about nonprofit leadership in a wide range of program disciplines including Education, Business, Social psychology, Organizational Behavior, and more!
Likewise, if you want to get a professional degree like an MBA (Master of Business Administration), which is typically non-funded, there are a lot of related disciplines to Business Administration, such as Marketing, Communications, Social Psychology, Data Science, Education, and Leadership. So you might find that there are other fully funded master’s programs that will give you key skills and expertise comparable to an MBA program.
If you live in a big city like Washington D.C., Los Angeles or New York City, you might find that you do live in an area that has a lot of universities, and you very well may find many fully funded graduate programs within commuting distance of your home. However, if you live in a place that doesn’t have a lot of universities, you still can check out what is available to you locally. You might be surprised that universities in more rural locations, like the University of Vermont, the University of Kansas, and Oregon State, offer fully funded programs in certain disciplines. If you cannot move, do your research to see what’s available locally.
Also, sometimes, when you do a Google search, you will find a bunch of ads. Back in the day, these ads did not exist. Ads typically are not going to show you a fully funded program, so pass on the ads!
Search Strategy #2: Use Graduate School Ranking Lists
If you’re having a hard time finding fully funded PhD programs in your disciple, try searching for ranking lists in that disciple. So for example, let’s say you want to get a fully funded PhD in the field of psychology. What you could do is Google: PhD psychology rankings, which for me, pulled up what appeared to be a legitimate list of rankings from socialpsychology.org. Keep in mind, some ranking lists are a form of advertising. Be cognizant of what’s advertising and what’s legitimate.
I was looking at this list of schools and their number one ranked school of Psychology is Stanford University, so we can look a little bit more closely at Stanford University’s PhD in Psychology. On their website, is says: “To date, the department of psychology has been successful in providing financial support for graduate students in the form of a living stipend, tuition, health insurance through spring quarter of their fifth year”. They’re offering full funding for five years! Notice that they didn’t use the term full funding or fully funded. They didn’t even say full financial support. If you did your Google keyword search, you might not have found this page, but they’re the number one ranked psychology program, at least according to that list, and Stanford does have full funding for their PhD program in psychology.
If it’s not clear, on the website what their funding policy is, contact admissions, as all of these programs, have an admissions contact. There will be an email or a phone number. You might even be able to go to an info session. So, take the time to reach out and find out what the situation is.
Search Strategy #3: Use Google Scholar to Find Potential PhD Supervisors
There’s one more strategy I want to mention specifically for people who want to enter a PhD program. As part of the PhD program, your dissertation is something that you’re working on independently, usually in about year three to year five of your five-year PhD program.
Some people might have a really specific dissertation research topic before they enter a PhD program. If that is the case for you, research faculty who are publishing papers on your topic and then investigate their university’s graduate programs. You can research faculty using Google Scholar, Google’s search engine for academic papers and reports. Search for your idea PhD dissertation research topic and filter by publication year. Look only at only papers that have been published in the last five years. Often, papers will rank really high that are seminal studies, but they could be from decades ago, from people who may not be with us anymore or whose research interests have evolved.
Once filtered, next, click on the authors of papers of interest and then see if they are university faculty. If they are, research the universities and see if they have graduate programs. Then, look at their funding options.
If you have a topic that you want to study as a PhD student, using Google Scholar is a better approach than looking at ranking lists because, you know, you might find a really top-ranked program in which none of the faculty in that program are researching what you want to research as a PhD student. If you don’t have a specific topic, that’s fine too, but look more closely at what the faculty members are researching.
About Negotiating Your Funding Offer
I recommend that you’ve exclusively applied to fully funded master’s and doctoral programs, but if you find that your dream school does not offer full funding or assistantships, still include your dream school on your list because you can negotiate funding even from programs that do not guarantee funding.
But the problem is you need some leverage. You need to get into fully funded programs in order to make the case to non-funded programs that you need funding. That’s difficult to do that if you don’t have other offers on the table. That’s why I think it’s a good strategy to apply to five or more schools at once. Make sure that list of schools includes fully funded programs so that you have some options that are fully funded, but don’t discount your dream schools because they don’t guarantee funding. You might be able to negotiate funding from them.
I can guarantee that you can find five or more fully funded graduate programs in your discipline to apply to using these strategies. In my Fully Funded Course and Mentorship Program, I teach even more in depth on how to do this, how to find really good programs that fit you and your goals. (Join the waitlist now!
Need additional guidance? Register here now for my free online Masterclass: The 5 Step Method to Achieve a Graduate Degree Debt-Free.
If you want to learn more about finding and successfully applying to graduate programs offering full tuition waivers and annual stipends, be sure to register for an upcoming Masterclass event!
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.
© Victoria Johnson / ProFellow, LLC 2021, all rights reserved.