Many or all companies we feature compensate us. Compensation and editorial
research influence how products appear on a page.
Student Loans

How to Pay for a Ph.D.

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of a doctorate of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is $81,900. You may have multiple options to fund a Ph.D. and turn your dream of furthering your career into a reality. 

We’ll discuss how to pay for a Ph.D. so you can determine which options make sense for your unique situation and goals. 

How to pay for a doctorate degree: 7 ways 

These seven strategies can make a Ph.D. more affordable. You may be able to take advantage of several at once.

1. Scholarships

Available through government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private companies, Ph.D. scholarships can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands. In most cases, they’re based on academic merit and geared toward a certain specialty, but you might also find need-based scholarships. The most significant benefit of scholarships is that you don’t need to repay them. 

Here are two examples of Ph.D. scholarships:

  • Beinecke Scholarship: The Beinecke Scholarship Program has existed since 1975. It’s for graduate students, including those pursuing Ph.D.s, in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
  • Graduate Cyber Security Scholarship: Sponsored by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, the Graduate Cyber Security Scholarship offers scholarships for graduate and Ph.D. students majoring in cybersecurity or information assurance. These scholarships range from $1,000 to $5,000.

2. Grants

Ph.D. grants are similar to scholarships in that you don’t need to repay them. They’re often based on financial need and distributed by state governments and nonprofit organizations. Some grants also require recipients to participate in certain research or academic initiatives. 

Two examples of grants for Ph.D. students include: 

  • José Martí Scholarship Challenge Grant Fund: The José Martí Scholarship Challenge Grant Fund is created for Hispanic students who attend qualifying schools in Florida. It’s a need-based program that offers up to $2,000 per year for undergraduate and graduate degrees.
  • Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant Program: The Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant Program is for Virginia residents pursuing health-related graduate studies at select universities. Grants range between $5,000 and $12,500.

3. Fellowships

Through fellowships, Ph.D. students can receive financial assistance that allows them to pursue research, internships, special projects, or study abroad opportunities. Most fellowships are issued by government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and universities. 

Here’s a look at two Ph.D. fellowship options:

  • Cornell Fellowship: Cornell University’s Cornell Fellowship offers a stipend and covers one year of tuition, fees, and health insurance. Several programs are available, such as the Diversity Programs in Engineering (DPE) fellowship and the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship. 
  • Google PhD Fellowship: The Google PhD fellowship program is for students in Ph.D. programs related to computer science. It allows them to become Google Research Mentors and develop their skills. 

4. Assistantships

Often provided by universities, Ph.D. assistantships reimburse students for tuition in exchange for their commitment to being a teaching or research assistant or performing administrative tasks on campus for about 15 to 25 hours per week. 

They may require a one-year commitment and also provide a small stipend. Unlike fellowships, which cover more opportunities on and off campus, assistantships are just for on-campus work. It’s wise to consult professors in your department to learn more about assistantship programs that may be options for you. 

Below are two examples of schools with assistantships: 

  • Kent State University: Kent State in Ohio offers assistantships to doctoral students. Depending on the program, you may earn a full tuition waiver plus a monthly stipend for working 10 to 20 hours per week. Kent State offers three types of assistantships: research, teaching, and administrative. 
  • University of Miami: The University of Miami, Florida, has several Ph.D. research assistantships. They pay an annual salary of $40,140 and cover the cost of tuition and health insurance.

Our expert’s advice for making connections and finding assistantships

Eric Kirste


Four suggestions: One, working alongside faculty, researchers, and fellow grad students allows you to establish meaningful professional relationships that can translate into future career opportunities. Two, developing professional relationships with respected faculty can help translate into valuable recommendations down the line. Three, as a grad student, you’ll also have the chance to attend other networking opportunities, such as conferences and workshops. Four, review the schools’ “Assistantship Clearinghouse” or other similar groups that contain a listing of current assistantship opportunities on campus.

5. Employer reimbursement 

Some employers strive to attract qualifying candidates and retain hard-working employees through tuition assistance or reimbursement. If you work full or part-time, don’t hesitate to reach out to your manager or human resources department to find out whether your company can pay for some or all of your Ph.D. program. 

Intel, ADP, UPS, Bank of America, and Procter & Gamble are examples of employers that offer reimbursement for graduate degrees.

6. Federal student loans

Federal loans are from the U.S. Department of Education to help pay for college. As a Ph.D. student, you may be eligible for federal student loans including: 

  • Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans: These loans don’t consider financial need. If you borrow one, you’ll owe interest that accrues from the time it’s disbursed. Limits apply to how much you can borrow. 
  • Federal Grad PLUS Loans: Federal Grad PLUS Loans are for the parents of undergraduate students or graduate and professional students. You may borrow up to the cost of attendance at your school minus any financial aid you qualify for. As with Direct Unsubsidized Loans, you’re on the hook for accrued interest.

If you’re interested in federal loans for your Ph.D. program, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form will ask you for basic information about yourself as well as details about your financial situation. Once you submit your FAFSA, your university will inform you which loans are available.

7. Private student loans

Private student loans can fill in the gaps if you don’t qualify for federal loans or need to borrow more than the federal limits allow. You can get them from banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Private student loans are often based on your credit score and income. 

You may need a cosigner who agrees to repay in the event you default. Private student loans might have higher interest rates depending on your (or your cosigner’s) credit score. They have stricter repayment terms than federal loans. 

However, they can make sense if you’ve exhausted all other ways to pay for your Ph.D. Be sure to shop around and compare private student loans. Rates, terms, fees, and eligibility requirements can vary by lender. 

Most lenders will allow you to prequalify and check your rates online without any impact on your credit. 

Our expert’s advice: How to minimize debt while pursuing a Ph.D.

Eric Kirste


No. 1, budget! Ensure you have a budget to incorporate schooling as well as your living needs. No. 2, resources: Ask the Ph.D. program at the university for ideas and resources. No. 3, negotiate and ask questions. If you’re awarded a teaching or research assistantship, negotiate for a higher salary. It doesn’t hurt to ask. If you publish work, the department may get more money, so it’s a win-win situation. No. 4, invest: Most Ph.D. students aren’t offered retirement benefits. If you are, please take advantage of them. Even though you are accumulating debt, you still need to save for retirement by investing in the stock market and taking advantage of its long-term benefits and growth. No. 5, emergency funds: It’s essential to have savings for emergencies in any amount! If it’s $100, $1,000, or $10,000—any amount is better than $0. When emergencies arise, these will damage a well-thought-out budget. (See No. 1.)

MethodBest for
ScholarshipsThose who can prove academic excellence and have decided to earn a Ph.D.
GrantsPh.D. students with financial need 
FellowshipsThose who wish to pursue an opportunity in addition to their Ph.D studies, such as research, internship, or study abroad
AssistantshipsPh.D. students who would like to work on-campus as a teaching, research, or administrative assistant 
Employment reimbursementPart or full-time employees who are also pursuing a Ph.D. program
Federal student loansPh.D. students (and parents) who want loans with lower interest rates, flexible repayment terms, and government protections 
Private student loans Those who have exhausted all other methods to pay for a Ph.D. and have good credit or a cosigner 

How to get your Ph.D. paid for

It is possible to get your Ph.D. paid for. Fully funded Ph.D. programs pay for tuition and fees. They also offer monthly stipends for health insurance and living expenses, eliminating most or all out-of-pocket expenses as you complete a Ph.D. program. 

Fully funded Ph.D. programs can be difficult to qualify for, but it’s worth applying. Examples of fully funded Ph.D. programs include: 

  • Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Columbia University: If you’re part of Columbia University’s clinical psychology Ph.D. program, you may earn full tuition and a $25,000 annual stipend for a three-year period. You can work as a teaching or research assistant and complete a mentor-matched program, including an internship. 
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management: MIT’s fully funded Ph.D. program pays for Ph.D. students for up to five years and includes a monthly stipend of $4,497, medical insurance, and a new laptop. Reimbursement for travel and conferences is also available. 
  • Ph.D. in Education at Michigan State University: Michigan State’s fully funded program is for students earning a Ph.D. in education with a specialty, such as higher education, K-12 educational administration, or education policy. Participants can expect a biweekly stipend and a tuition waiver that covers nine credits each semester.