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Student Loans

How to Pay for a PhD

Getting a doctorate is a big commitment. Like any form of higher education, it takes a lot of time and can cost a lot of money. 

Fortunately, you can tap into many resources to pay for it. In this guide, we’ll explain how to pay for a PhD, and we’ll also provide tips for getting your degree without incurring a ton of student debt. 

In this guide:

PhD funding: first steps

There are several funding opportunities to pay for your doctoral program. To minimize student loan debt, explore all your funding options for free money before you borrow.

Here’s the smartest way to approach the process:

Use PhD scholarships, grants, and gully-funded programs first

Scholarships and grants (including fellowships and teaching assistantships) should be your first sources of funding because they give you cash you don’t have to pay back. If you tap into these sources first, you could avoid taking out student loans altogether or minimize the amount you need to borrow.

To find options for scholarships and grants, meet with your university guidance counselor or someone in the financial aid department. 

If you’re earning a doctorate as part of your career development and are employed, you can also ask someone in your company’s human resources department about tuition reimbursement assistance programs.

Through such a program, you could potentially get your employer to pick up all or part of the cost of your degree if you commit to staying with the company for a certain time after graduation. 

Doctoral scholarships

There are many scholarships available to grad students. Here are a few examples to get you started:

To find additional scholarships to apply for, contact your department and your college’s financial aid office.

PhD grants

There are also a number of grants that are available for PhD candidates. Some have broad granting criteria while others are focused on specific fields of study. Here are some examples:

  • The AICPA Fellowship for Minority Doctoral Students: This program provides up to $12,000 in scholarships for minority students enrolled in accounting programs.
  • Grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation: Grants are available to students from countries where anthropology is under-represented. Grants encourage collaborative research with scholars from across the globe.
  • Grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation: Grants are available for those contributing to research in the fields of science, technology, and economics.
  • Fulbright Grants: Fulbright Grants provide funding to support U.S. doctoral students studying internationally. They are paid for primarily by the U.S. government and are offered in a number of fields. 
  • The Ford Foundation Fellowship Program: These grants offer three years of funding for those pursuing a PhD or a Sc.D. degree. They provide an annual stipend of $24,000 for research-based programs. 
  • KPMG Foundation PhD Project: These grants are designed to diversify business school faculty by attracting racial minorities to doctoral programs in business and careers as business professors. 
  • Eileen Blackey Doctoral Fellowship: This fellowship is aimed at social work PhD students who National Association of Social Work members and are doing research in welfare policy and practice. The amount of the fellowship varies each year but is typically between $4,000 and $6,500. 
  • AERA Doctoral Dissertation Grants: The American Educational Research Association gives one-year doctoral grants of $20,000 each to students doing research into K–12 or college teaching. Priority is given to those focused on STEM and bilingual education. 
  • The American Association of University Women’s Fellowships This organization provides fellowships to American and international students who are doing research in graduate or postgraduate studies. It offers awards from $6,000 to $30,000. 

If you are looking for additional grants, contact your department or school’s financial aid office.

Next, consider student loans

After you’ve tapped all your options for free funding, you might need to borrow to fund additional costs. Exhaust federal student aid before exploring private student loan options. 

Federal student loans 

Federal student loans, including Grad PLUS Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans, can be affordable ways to pay for your doctoral education. There is currently no subsidized loan option for graduate students. 

Direct Unsubsidized Loans are best for any student who needs federal student loans for graduate school. They have an interest rate of 6.08% for graduate and professional students, and you can borrow up to $20,500 per year.

You may be able to qualify for these loans even if you don’t have great credit.

>> Read more: Federal Direct Loans

If you need additional funding, you can take out a Grad PLUS Loan. Unlike some other Direct loans, you’ll have to qualify for these loans through a credit check. They carry an interest rate of 7.08%, and you can borrow up to the total cost of attendance calculated by your school.

Federal loans come with flexible repayment options and the possibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness if you go into public service, such as teaching. Federal loans also have relatively low interest rates compared to some private loans.

To apply for federal loans, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Using information from the FAFSA, your school will put together a financial aid package detailing the loans you’re eligible for. 

Private student loans

Private PhD student loans do not have the same borrower protections as federal student loans, but they can help cover additional costs once you’ve exhausted federal loans each year. 

As a PhD student, you are likely to qualify for competitive rates on private loans because people with doctorates tend to be high earners. But before applying for a loan, you should compare rates from several lenders to find the most affordable loan for your situation.

>> Read More: How to pay for college