Firstly, it is important for prospective graduate school applicants to know that a PhD program is typically fully funded, in that you do not pay to attend. Typically, your tuition is funded either by your role as a teaching assistant for courses at a university or by your advisor having money from a grant for you to work on research. The advice many students are given is that you should not accept a PhD offer if they are not offering you funding to have your tuition covered.
In fact, PhD programs are supposed to pay you! In addition to not paying for tuition, you typically receive a stipend for working as a teaching assistant or as a research assistant. Usually, this stipend is enough to live on, but some universities do not provide enough funding for you to live on, so you must look at the conditions and consider the cost of living carefully.
One way to know how the stipend goes is to talk to graduate students in the program that you’re interested in applying to/attending. Ask them if the stipend is generally enough for them to live on. Have students had issues with getting paid? How much money are they roughly spending on rent per month (or what percentage of their pay goes to rent every month)?
Although you may not have to pay tuition, universities typically force their graduate students to pay some kind of fee every semester or year. Find out what that looks like for the institution, as you will have to factor that into the actual money you will be receiving from the program.
I will address Master’s program funding further down this page because the next section is more important to cover first.
Application Fee Waivers
This information solely applies to United States based institutions.
If possible, you should try to get as many application fee waivers for your graduate school applications. It can cost up to $120 per application! These fee waivers are usually only for domestic students.
There are all different kinds of ways to get waivers, but they are typically for students who are traditionally underrepresented in the discipline, come from low-income backgrounds, or have attended some sort of specialty program. You can also get fee waivers at conferences, from asking the admissions offices, and from checking online to see if there are graduate school fee waivers for the school you are applying to. For example, Colorado State University offers fee waivers for students who participated in:
Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), AmeriCorps, America-Mideast Educational and Training Services (AMIDEAST), Association of Special Programs in Region Eight (TRiO adjacent; ASPIRE), ASSET / Colorado ASSET, CSU Community for Excellence (C4E), Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Fulbright Scholar, Graduating from or a graduate of a Historically Black College or University in the U.S.A. (HBCU), Graduating from or a graduate of a Hispanic-Serving Institution in the U.S.A. (HSI), Iraqi Scholarship Recipient, International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), Institute of International Education (IIE), Latin American Scholarship Program of American Universities (LASPAU), Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), McNair Scholar, CSU Native American Legacy Award (NALA), Organization of American States (OAS), Out in STEM Member (oSTEM), Pakistan Higher Education Commission Scholarship, Peace Corps, Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), Research Experiences for Undergraduates / National Science Foundation (REU), Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Graduating from or a graduate of a Tribal College or University in the U.S.A. (TCU), TRiO – i.e., Talent Search, Upward Bound, Student Support Services, Educational Opportunity Centers, US Military – Veterans and Active Duty, Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF), Indonesian Endowment Fund for Education Scholarship (LPDP)
A lot of people would fulfill those criteria! But not every university offers waivers to so many people. Google “Graduate School Application Fee Waiver” then the name of your program or university to see what comes up.
Here are some of the tried and true ways to get graduate school application fee waivers for PhD programs, several of which I utilized myself:
Big Ten Free App
- Apply for Fee waivers for Big 10 Schools from the Big Ten FreeApp (University of Chicago, University of Illinois, Indiana University, University of Iowa, University of Maryland, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Northwestern University, The Ohio State University, Penn State University, Purdue University, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
- Each school has a different criteria for who is eligible for a waiver
- For students who have been traditionally underrepresented in graduate education, including racial and ethnic minorities, women in STEM, first-generation college students, and individuals who have faced adversity, such as societal, economic or academic disadvantages [copied from website]
- Requirements: [copied from website]
- Have completed bachelor’s degree by the August preceding enrollment in the graduate program
- Seeking admission to a Ph.D. program or a terminal Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program
- Be a citizen or a permanent resident of the U.S.
- Have a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher (4.0 scale)
- Intend to pursue an academic and/or research career
- FreeApp requests are rolling, but note that the University of Minnesota has a deadline of November 15 [from website]
Attending conferences [SECTION STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION]
Going to the graduate school booths at:
- [Geosciences] The American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting
- [STEM] SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Conference
Participating in a special program [SECTION STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION]
- [Math] The Math Alliance / The National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences
- [STEM] REU’s (while in undergrad)
- [STEM] Científico Latino Graduate Student Mentorship Initiative
Fellowships [SECTION STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION]
- NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP)
- Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship
- Hertz Fellowship
- The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans
- Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship
- Department of Defense National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship Program
- Department of Defense SMART Fellowship Program
- Graduate Fellowships for STEM Diversity (GFSD)
- GEM Fellowship [Includes Master’s Funding!]
If you are considering any Department of Energy, NSA, or Department of Defense fellowship, I strongly urge you to read about the Just Mathematics Collective and consider where you stand morally on using your work for defense and national security purposes. They also provide some resources for students. Consider: How comfortable are you with your research potentially being used to spy on fellow Americans? Would you work on a project involving nuclear weapons? Would you work on research that could potentially kill people? Define your personal moral and ethical boundaries before you accept any offer.
Master’s Funding [SECTION STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION]
It is rare to receive funding for master’s programs, but not impossible. Some programs offer funding based on teaching assistantship, which means you either teach or grade for a class and receive a tuition waiver and stipend.
For mathematics, I have heard of UMass at Amherst’s Mathematics Master’s students receiving funding through teaching assistantships and I personally applied to Youngstown State University’s Math Master’s program, which offers teaching assistantships as well.