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Can You Really Get a Stipend to Earn That PhD?

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Dec 10, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Graduate school is expensive—and it just got more so. During the debt deal of 2011, President Obama made several compromises to get the budget passed that have proved to be expensive for students. One of those compromises was an elimination of subsidized loan programs for graduate and professional students—those enrolled in medical and law degree programs, for example. Before, those loans would not accumulate interest while the student was in college. Now, your interest will start to accumulate when you take out the loan—not when you graduate.

Still, there are opportunities for graduate school funding that are good deals—and that are generally not available to undergrads. Many of those are a special kind of work-study program or scholarships that do not require repayment. Some of the non-loan types of assistance available to graduate students include:

Teaching assistantships

Work as a teaching assistant (or TA), and you could get your tuition reduced or eliminated entirely—as well as a small stipend for living expenses. The programs will change depending on your school—and often between departments in a particular school. But your living expense stipend could be as much as $20,000 per year.

See Also: Online Doctoral Degree Programs

Your job duties will vary depending on the program. But you’ll probably be required to teach or assist in teaching part of a course; oversee laboratory classes; grade papers and tests; and meet with undergraduate students during regular office hours. Often, TA’s work about twenty hours per week.


A fellowship is a type of scholarship usually awarded to graduate and postgraduate students. They may be awarded based on academic merit, financial need, or the organization’s grant making priorities. And the money can come from your school, from private organizations, or from the government. It can be a lot of money, too—sometimes a stipend from one to four years, either with or without tuition payment.

See Also: Online Degree Programs

Research assistants

A research assistantship will require you to work alongside a professor doing research—and sometimes assisting the professor in administrative and teaching tasks as well. Unlike TA positions, research assistantships are often paid through grants given by the school.

Who qualifies for a stipend?

The rules will vary depending on your school. At some schools, TA positions are common; at others, they are selective and quite competitive. You may land a TA or RA position—or a fellowship—based on your academic performance, your financial need, your research interests, or recommendations for faculty. It’s always best to ask your financial aid office if there are any assistantship positions or fellowships available at your school—and the process for applying.

It’s rare to find TA and RA positions at hands-on professional schools such as medical or law schools. They are the most common in doctoral degree programs at academic colleges, although some masters degree programs may offer this option as well. They also tend to be more common in subjects such as the sciences, and less so in the humanities and the arts—although they do exist in these fields as well. Some programs may require you to keep a certain GPA at all times.

Going to graduate school—either a traditional school or a top accredited online doctoral degree program—can be expensive. But not if you land a TA or RA position. Be sure to talk to your school’s financial aid office to find out whether these types of programs are available to you. You may have to teach, grade papers, work with undergraduate students, or perform research for a professor in addition to earning your own advanced degree—but the benefit of avoiding more debt and getting paid to study can be worth it for many students.


Jennifer Williamson

Jennifer worked as a GED teacher for an adult education nonprofit for two years. Her students came from all walks of life, and ranged in age from sixteen to sixty-eight. During that time, she became knowledgeable about the unique needs of non-traditional and adult learners. She counseled hundreds of students about their higher education options, including online degree programs.

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