Grad School Funding: How Much Will You Pay...or Get?
Like most people, you probably care (intensely) about how much you'll have to pay to attend graduate school. And you wouldn't be the first person to make decisions about where to go based on money. The reality is that not all schools are created equal. Some schools are in a stronger position to offer funding based on the size of their endowment, departmental budgets, and private/public ownership. In particular, public university systems – which are funded by State Legislatures – are more prone to run into financial difficulties resulting in fewer (or smaller) funding opportunities.
Grad school funding is such an important topic that we discuss it separately in our paying for school section. For now, though, take a look at the following criteria and run them against the schools that you're thinking about.
Cost of Tuition
We all know what tuition is. If you're applying to a master's program, chances are you'll have to fork over part or all of the tuition. So check the tuition rates at all your schools, accounting for in state and out of state status. We've seen tuition fees as low as $5,000 a year and as high as $40,000. That's a nontrivial difference.
Tuition Reduction from Tuition Waivers
Find out which schools offer tuition waivers. This means that the university will forego their right to charge you tuition, saving you thousands of dollars. Sounds great, right? This is only relevant for master's programs, since doctorates are usually fully funded. You should also find out if such waivers are partial or complete, automatic or only for some students.
Income from Assistantships
Check whether you can receive a stipend (e.g., a salary) from working as a teaching or research assistant. This is just what it sounds like – helping a professor teach his class, or conduct his research. Find out how many assistantships are offered each year and how much they pay.
Income from Fellowships
Similar to assistantships, fellowships provide students with a salary. The difference is that you don't have to work for it. This is one of the few free lunches in academia. For many people, this is a dream come true. Go to school, learn, focus on your research, all without worrying about money or work!
A Final Word: Funding Varies From School to School...
It's not enough to know which schools offer which forms of funding. The amount of aid awarded can vary dramatically, so dig into the numbers. To illustrate the point, consider the following stipends at five different English PhD programs in the 2015-16 academic year. The lowest is ~$15,000 while the highest is ~$25,000. That's a $10,000 annual funding difference, which, multiplied over a five year program, amounts to a total of $50,000. Money is not king, but It's important to balance financial matters with how each graduate program fits your interests and skills.
Annual Stipend for English PhD Programs: 2015-16 Academic Year