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Getting Grants for your Ph.D.

written by: Peter Boysen•edited by: Trent Lorcher•updated: 7/12/2010

This is a basic overview of how grant funding for doctoral studies works, with links to some helpful organizations.

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    The Good News about Ph.D. Grants

    There is a world of difference between financing a master's degree and a doctoral degree. While there are foundations and public sources of funding for master's degree students, there is a significantly higher of legwork involved -- students have to go out and find their own funding, or finance it.

    In the world of Ph.D. studies, things are a bit different. Depending on the university where you pursue your Ph.D., you may get a funding package that covers your tuition and gives you a stipend for your living expenses for up to five years.

    In return, you're expected to teach classes while doing your research and going to your own classes. At Stanford University, for example, you can receive a maximum of ten units of tuition allowance in return for 20 hours of work. Appointments to these assistantships are fairly competitive, depending on the academic department in which you are studying.

    Fellowships are also available. These require a bit more legwork on your end, as they come from various levels of government, or private foundations. Many universities have set aside part of their endowment to fund fellowships of their own. Columbia University is just one of many universities that maintain a fellowship search option.

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    And...the Bad News about Ph.D. Grants

    Are you married, with children? Most financial assistance plans that are associated with Ph.D. grants and programs are designed to support a single student -- not a spouse, and not children. This means that, if you are married and going back to school to get your doctorate, you will struggle financially if your spouse does not have a full-time job. Many universities include health care benefits with their funding packages for doctoral students, but they do not include dependents in their coverage options. Adding those dependents can be extremely expensive -- so again, if your spouse has full-time employment, things will likely go much better for you and your family.

    Now -- let's say you get your five-year funding package and head off on your merry way to a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, or Medieval History, or German Language. As more and more levels of government struggle to find funding for their budgets, public universities will begin to find themselves hiking tuition rates -- and trimming programs. Before you plunge into a five-year study program in a liberal arts field of study, you want to communicate with professors in your department of study to find out what things you need to do to make yourself competitive for the faculty openings that will be out there when you graduate.

    These things said, there are Ph.D. grants out there, nationwide, that will help you pursue the field of your passion. The University of North Texas is just one institution that has an Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships, or a similar agency, to help its graduate students connect to the funding sources out there. The money is out there -- but so is the competition. The harder you work, the more likely you are to fund -- and finish -- your doctoral degree.