What are Fully Funded PhD Programs?


The cost of attending a Ph.D. program ranges from $12,000 per year at public universities to nearly $28,000 per year at nonprofit private institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In addition to tuition and fees, graduate students need to pay for living expenses, health insurance, and research and travel.

Fortunately, many universities support doctoral students through funding such as tuition waivers and stipends. Attending a fully funded doctoral program can save students tens of thousands of dollars. Prospective students can also research free online Ph.D. programs, which allow learners to earn degrees in a flexible format while minimizing debt.

This article explains how fully funded programs support doctoral students. The following sections explore methods for finding free Ph.D. programs, plus which expenses fully funded programs cover.

What Do We Mean by Fully Funded?

Fully funded Ph.D. programs may offer more than free tuition. Most fully funded programs also provide a stipend, and some schools offer health insurance and research funding. However, each program offers a different funding package, so students should research the funding opportunities available at each prospective program.

Tuition Paid in Full

Graduate tuition and fees cost an average of more than $19,000 per year, according to the NCES. Students attending private universities pay even higher rates. However, graduate students often pay less than the full tuition rate.

Fully funded doctoral programs provide tuition waivers, which typically cover the entire cost of tuition and fees. Some programs offer other generous benefits for funded students, such as book stipends and reduced-fare transit passes.

Doctoral programs at public universities may also offer a nonresident tuition waiver, which allows out-of-state students to pay in-state tuition rates. Although it does not cover the full cost of tuition, this waiver can save students thousands of dollars each semester.

Stipend for Living Expenses

In addition to a tuition waiver, fully funded programs often provide a stipend to cover living expenses. The amount of the stipend varies by program. For example, Cornell University pays doctoral students a stipend of $28,000 per year, while Northwestern University offers $33,500 per year. Public universities often pay slightly lower stipends; at the University of California, Berkeley, graduate stipends range from $18,500 to $33,500 per year.

To receive graduate stipends, learners may need to teach or work as teaching assistants or research assistants. Other programs offer fellowship funding, which does not include work requirements.

A graduate stipend may not cover all of a student's living expenses. In these cases, graduate students may need to take out loans or work during the summer. While stipends pay only during the nine-month academic year, some programs also offer summer funding.

Health Insurance

Doctoral students at fully funded programs may receive health insurance as part of their funding package. However, many free Ph.D. programs do not offer health insurance, so students should check with their prospective institution.

A student health insurance package may only cover health costs at facilities associated with the university. Doctoral students may receive automatic enrollment in a health insurance plan, or they may select from several plans during an annual open enrollment period.

While some free Ph.D. programs cover the cost of health insurance, others provide discounted rates. Doctoral students may also receive a tax deduction if they pay a monthly premium for insurance.

Choosing a fully funded program that offers health insurance can save students a significant amount of money. Doctoral students may also add spouses and dependents to their university health insurance plan.

Research or Travel Funding

Doctoral students at fully funded programs may receive additional benefits, such as research and travel funding. Doctoral students may attend conferences, visit archives, and complete summer language programs. While not all programs offer these benefits, research and travel funding can help doctoral students complete their dissertation faster and stand out in the job market.

Students typically apply for research and travel funding through their program on an as-needed basis. For example, a doctoral student who is attending a conference may submit an application for travel funding. Many programs reimburse doctoral students for research and travel costs, rather than paying the cost up front.

In addition to applying for institutional funding, doctoral students can pursue grants and scholarships from government agencies and private organizations. These awards can cover research and travel costs.

Will Your Ph.D. Program Require You to Teach?

Many fully funded Ph.D. programs incorporate teaching requirements. Doctoral students may need to work as teaching assistants under professor supervision. They may also grade undergraduate work or become a graduate instructor.

Teaching assistants typically lead discussion sections and grade student work. They often attend lectures and regular meetings with the faculty instructor. Graders may also attend class, and they use rubrics to grade papers and exams. Experienced doctoral students may teach classes independently as graduate instructors.

Doctoral programs prepare learners for teaching responsibilities through coursework on teaching methods. Graduate students may also meet outside of class to strengthen their teaching skills.

Teaching assistantships help doctoral students gain teaching experience while pursuing their degrees and secure academic positions after graduation. For example, doctoral degree-holders applying for professor positions can submit syllabi they created during their teaching assistantships. Teaching experience also prepares learners to discuss their teaching approach during job interviews.

Teaching requirements vary by program. Students researching fully funded doctoral programs should identify any funding requirements, including teaching hours and prep work. Students enrolled in free Ph.D. programs online may complete teaching requirements virtually.

How to Apply for a Fully Funded Ph.D. Program

Applying to fully funded Ph.D. programs takes time, but these programs can save doctoral students tens of thousands of dollars. By investing time in the research and application process, learners can identify the programs that best support doctoral students. This section explores the process of applying to fully funded doctoral programs.

Research Your Program

Before submitting an application, prospective students should extensively research each program. Learning details about faculty members, doctoral specializations, and graduation requirements can help students choose the program that best fits their goals. Applicants should also examine each program's timeline to make sure it meets their needs.

Identify Funding Opportunities

Each doctoral program handles funding differently. Some schools automatically award grants or fellowships to admitted students, while others require learners to submit a separate funding application. Programs also offer different types of funding. Applicants should carefully research each program's funding opportunities and requirements.

Fill Out Applications

After researching Ph.D. programs, students can start the application process. Most doctoral programs require applicants to submit official transcripts, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement. Investing time in the application process can pay off for doctoral students who earn a spot in a fully funded program.

Discover Funding Options

At some programs, doctoral students automatically receive funding. However, other programs require admitted doctoral students to complete a separate funding application. Funding applications may require additional letters of recommendation or a personal statement. The deadline to apply for assistantships and fellowships may differ from the program's application deadline.