What is a fully-funded Ph.D.? Program? Once a golden era, a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) was a sure ticket to success. Money and job longevity were taken for granted by those with the nerve to complete the rigorous course work and the original research expected of this terminal degree. As academic markets constrict, however, many doors in teaching and scholarship close, leaving newly-minted Ph.D. s to fend for themselves in business and non-profit employment. The last thing they need is student debt, a grim reality that makes a fully-funded Ph.D. all the more attractive.
A Ph.D. in Psychology provides you the credentials to join or start your practice in clinical psychology or pursue academic or practitioner careers in school psychology, health psychology, social psychology, and organizational psychology. Jobs in these fields include social work, counseling, teaching, research, human resources, marketing, public health, and behavioural science.
It’s important to note that when seeking funding for the duration of your doctoral studies, it is ideal to be accepted to programs offering a total budget to all admitted students. When a university indicates that they provide total funding to their Ph.D. students, in most cases, this means they provide each admitted doctoral student full tuition and a stipend for living expenses for the four-to-six-year duration of the student’s postgraduate studies. Not all universities offer total funding to their postgraduate students, so be sure to research the financial aid offerings of all the potential Ph.D. programs in your academic field, including small and lesser-known schools in the U.S. and abroad.
Tuition and Fees
The first primary component of what constitutes a fully funded Ph.D. program is the remission of tuition and fees. Universities formulate tuitions according to credit hours. The tuition money per hour is an index of enrollment, human resources and infrastructure, and support from the state (for public colleges). On the other hand, fees are charged according to administrative costs incurred by the institution and passed on to the student. A fully funded Ph.D. program requires no payment from the student because a benefactor or endowment covers costs.
The principal idea behind a fully-funded Ph.D. program is to focus the graduate student entirely on his or her academic work. Unless room and board are accounted for—or the student is independently wealthy—the cost of living might have to be covered by outside employment, thus dividing both available time and attention. This is why housing, meals, necessities, and transportation are factored in when the doctoral program is fully funded. Hence most programs pay a stipend to cover the basic expenses of living. While the compensation is usually provided adequately, it will in no way support a luxurious lifestyle.
In many ways, a fully-funded Ph.D. program is a full-time job, with the student often working overtime at night and on weekends. Accordingly, the college or university of enrollment will treat the student as an investment, making sure neither illness nor injury thwarts the attainment of the coveted terminal degree. A doctoral student may receive the benefit of student health insurance (at no expense) or qualify for more generous employee health benefits if holding a teaching or research assistantship. Either way, doctoral candidates are reasonably assured that burdensome medical bills will not threaten their continued enrollment.
When Does Funding Run Out?
Surveying fully funded Ph.D. programs online reveals that most expect their students to complete the doctorate—particularly in the liberal fine arts—in about five years. As often as higher education institutions praise knowledge for its own sake, few have the space or the patience for eternal students. As long as graduate students maintain good academic and behavioral standing at their institutions, they can enjoy total funding for those years, provided matriculation remains uninterrupted. Of course, legitimate exceptions happen, and many universities will negotiate additional time if need be.
Here are a few examples of such an option:
Columbia University, Ph.D. in Psychology (New York, NY): All students accepted to the five-year program receive a fellowship, which supports tuition, health and insurance fees, and an annual stipend through the fifth year, provided that they maintain good academic standing.
New York University (NYU), Ph.D. in Psychology (New York, NY): All admitted Ph.D. students are guaranteed five years of funding (4 years for those with a Master’s degree). The award package typically includes a full-tuition scholarship, comprehensive health insurance, and a stipend.
Northwestern University, Ph.D. in Psychology (Evanston, IL): All admitted Ph.D. students receive total funding, including tuition and a stipend, for five academic years and four summers.
Harvard University, Ph.D. in Psychology (Cambridge, MA): All admitted Ph.D. students are provided with fellowship packages with up to 6 years of tuition, three years of 10-month support, four summers of research fellowships, and the guarantee of a Teaching Fellowship for the 3rd and 4th years. Depending on their advisor’s funds, students may also be supported as a Research Assistant or, as an alternative to, a Teaching Fellowship.
The University of Liverpool, Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (Liverpool, UK): Available to EU citizens only, the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology is a 3-year full-time program fully funded by the National Health Service (NHS). Trainees are registered postgraduate students in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences and employed within Mersey Care NHS Trust.
The University of Maryland, Ph.D. in Psychology (College Park, MD): All admitted Ph.D. students are assisted in the form of a fellowship or graduate assistantship for the first five years, which includes tuition remission of up to 10 credits per semester.
Rutgers University, Ph.D. in Psychology (Piscataway, NJ): All admitted Ph.D. students are guaranteed five years of funding (3 years for those with a Master’s degree), provided they remain in good standing. Financial aid covers tuition and includes a 10-month stipend or salary. Additional summer funding is available through teaching or grant funding.
The University of Vermont, Ph.D. in Psychology (Burlington, VT): The Department of Psychological Science attempts to fund eligible full-time graduate students for at least five years. It has been thriving since the inception of the Ph.D. program in 1965.