Pregraduate Advising

Affording

Last updated: July 5, 2013

Application costs

The cost of applying for admission to graduate school includes the $185 registration fee for the GRE General Test and an estimated total of $640 in application fees (average $80 for each of eight institutions). Variable expenses include postage and fees for transcripts from institutions other than Duke. (Duke students pay a one-time transcript fee upon matriculation, and there is no additional charge for transcripts.) Add the cost of travel to visit any institution unless you are invited for a spring recruiting event for which expenses are covered or reimbursed.  Such recruiting events are common for departments in the natural sciences. 

Tuition and living costs

Scholarships and fellowships awarded by the graduate department or institution will cover much of the expense of the graduate program and will also include a living stipend for study toward the Ph.D. Support for study toward the masters degree as a terminal degree is generally arranged through institutional loans rather than supported through a fellowship, but there are exceptions.

At some institutions, tuition for the doctoral program is charged at two rates with a reduction occurring after the second year or after passing the oral preliminary examinations. A few graduate institutions charge the same annual tuition throughout the degree period.  There are also fees for health insurance, student activities and government.  When accepting a fellowship, determine whether it will cover these fees in addition to tuition. 

Taking the first year of a doctoral program as an example, total costs including room and board range widely–from $20,000 for an in-state resident attending a state university to $50,000 for a prominent private university. These figures for the 2007-08 academic year include institutional estimates for room and board in university residence halls, books, required fees and travel. Decisions about housing options will affect the estimate considerably.  Remember that for all or part of your graduate career, you will be eligible for fellowships that will cover tuition and reasonable living costs. 

Graduate Student Stipends

In research intensive universities, Ph.D. students typically receive fellowships for at least part of their graduate career.  The fellowships cover tuition and most fees, and contribute to living expenses through a nine- or twelve-month living stipend.  Awards may be made by the Graduate School division, some reserved for entering students and others reserved for more advanced students.  Awards may also be made by the specific department or program of admission.  For competitive awards decided during the admission process, your application will be judged on the basis of the quality of your undergraduate academic record, on the evidence of your ability to do research and on your promise of becoming a productive scholar.

Some fellowships are endowed awards unique to the institution, and these may have no obligation for teaching or research service.  Other awards are made with consideration for the educational benefit to the student of teaching or research assistance within the institution.  A graduate program strives to award funds equitably so that students receiving national fellowships do not receive institutional fellowships at the same time. 

Fellowship stipends vary widely, but institutions usually attempt to meet the cost of living in the area.  National fellowship stipends may be higher.  Some examples of stipend levels for certain 2008-09 graduate fellowships: 

  • Stanford - $32,000 (12 months);
  • Yale - minimum of $25,000 annually;
  • U. Michigan (Rackham School of Graduate Studies) - $26,000 (12 months) ;
  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship - $30,000 (12 months). 

The tuition component of a fellowship for a degree candidate is not taxable income for U.S. citizens and permanent residents; the stipend component of a fellowship is taxable whether or not the institution withholds federal and state tax from monthly checks. Loans are not taxable income.

Financial Aid

Graduate programs within research-intensive universities will provide support to their Ph.D. candidates to the fullest extent possible from institutional resources. Support may be limited to four or five years. Applicants for admission will be considered for institutional support when they indicate their interest on the application itself. Students should inform themselves thoroughly about both departmental procedures for applying for and receiving financial assistance, and should also be familiar with their graduate school’s office of financial aid.  Typically, applicants do not need to apply separately for financial aid; rather they indicate on the application that they wish to be considered for finanacial support.

Scholarships and fellowships

Most financial assistance for Ph.D. candidates is awarded through institutional scholarships and fellowships. Both scholarships and fellowships support tuition costs and living expenses, and the terms are interchanged frequently. The original meaning of “fellowship,” however, includes some sort of experiential component, generally teaching or research.

Loans

An educational loan is one way to cover the cost of graduate education not paid by scholarships and fellowships or during a period when a student does not receive such an award. Most graduate schools offer Federal Stafford and Perkins loan programs which are restricted to U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents. Graduate students apply for loans as independents rather than as financial dependents of their parents. Applying for an educational loan will require completion of a FAFSA form in order to calculate need.

Employment

Part time employment in non-academic settings should be cleared with the student’s department since graduate support is awarded on the assumption that a student is engaged full time in study and research.

Scholarships and Fellowships

The types of financial support for graduate school are more varied than those for undergraduate education. In addition to loans and merit scholarships, graduate students may also receive appointments as teaching fellows or research assistants.  Because the purpose of Ph.D. training is to learn to do research, graduate awards are usually called fellowships rather than scholarships. 

Institutional Scholarships and Fellowships. Graduate programs within research-intensive universities award a limited number of merit-based named scholarships, sometimes on the basis of the admitting department’s nomination.  The bulk of student support, however, comes through teaching and research fellowships. These require a quarter-time teaching or research effort and are very common awards for entering graduate students although a few departments limit these awards to more experienced students. The amount of a fellowship typically covers full or partial payment of tuition and fees as well as an income stipend for the academic year. Notification of a scholarship or fellowship award will accompany the letter of admission.

Once in graduate school, students will have additional opportunities to apply for fellowships as well as grants to support preliminary and dissertation research projects.

National Scholarships and Fellowships. Examples of national award programs that support graduate study in the United States are the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship in selected areas of the arts, humanities and social sciences, and the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. Some scholarships require the endorsement of the undergraduate institution, and these will have very early deadlines. The Office of University Scholars and Fellows at Duke coordinates information for these and other post-baccalaureate scholarships.

The Council of Graduate Schools provides a beginning point for other scholarships.  GRAPES is a searchable database of graduate and postdoctoral awards that is maintained by UCLA.  Some of the listed grants and fellowships are open to students who have been accepted to, but not yet matriculated, in a graduate program.  Deadlines for awards are scheduled once each year, typically in the early part of the academic year or early spring.

Scholarships of Special Note. The Rhodes, Marshall, and Winston Churchill Scholarships support one or more years of graduate study in Great Britian, and the Fulbright Scholarship program supports one year of academic work and/or research in any of 100 countries. These national awards for postgraduate study abroad or research are very prestigious and extremely competitive. Applications are made through designated campus committees with deadlines as early as the second week of classes. Information sessions are held in the spring and early fall semesters; registration may be requested.  You should add your name to the Post-Graduate Scholarship listserv to receive notices of new scholarship and fellowship programs and information sessions.

Options

Apart from loans, scholarships and fellowships, options for support are limited, but some students find creative ways to support themselves partially.  Examples include employment with residential life services as a resident advisor to avoid housing costs or, if resources are available, taking out a mortgage in order to buy a house as an investment; sharing monthly costs with house mates during the time of ownership contributes to the monthly mortgage payments.  Graduate students may also tutor or grade for their departmental courses and individual undergraduates.  An important point is not to accumulate credit card debt as a means of financing education.  Not only is it expensive to pay off, but such debt can lead to ineligibility for future financial aid.  Some universities, including Duke, will permit employees to study toward a degree at a fraction of regular tuition although this is probably more common for undergraduates and candidates for a masters degree than doctoral students.