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Questions about graduate school stipends

  1. Aug 11, 2010 #1
    I've read that typical yearly stipends for physics graduate students go at around $15k - $23k. I've also read that this is good enough to make ones living, but not much more. I would appreciate it if past graduate students shared their experiences on living by your uni's stipends.
    Also, and most importantly... I'm planning to get married before or maybe during my graduate studies. So, if this stipend is just enough to support yourself, is there any kind of assistance that your university is willing to give you because you are married? One important thing is that neither me or my girlfriend is from the US. I've talked about this with her. She definitely would like to work in the US in wherever city we would end up in, but we're not certain about all the policies involved (VISA).

    Thanks in advance for your comments.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 11, 2010 #2
    I did it. It's manageable although you are going to have to squeeze every penny. One good thing about universities is that they usually do have subsidized housing and daycare, and very good health insurance. Also the campus environment is a very good one for families.

    There is usually no specific financial assistance that the university provides for married couples, although you do get much higher on the wait list for subsidized housing.
  4. Aug 17, 2010 #3
    One question:
    I've been living with the idea that no physics graduate student pays for his or her phd degree.
    However, I recently read that this is a common misunderstanding, as in the majority of the cases you do have to pay something at the end of the day. I have my doubts if they were talking about physics phd's or what other degree.
    So, can someone please clarify: is it normal for a physics graduate student to pay $0 for their degree? If not, what would you say is a normal quantity to pay by semester?
  5. Aug 17, 2010 #4


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    I think the exact process varies from school to school. Where I went to grad school you paid tuition, but were awarded a bursary and most students also took on a teaching assistanceship. That money allowed you to pay for your tuition and covered cheap rent and basic necessities like groceries.

    I took on a part-time job during my PhD studies (on top of the bursary and TA) that allowed me to move into a comfortable one bedroom and even buy a car during my final year. It was kind of a fun job, but the direct consequence was that I took about 6 months longer to finish my degree than others who didn't have one.
  6. Aug 17, 2010 #5


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    The tuition is usually covered by the grad school or your department, but almost all universities will require you pay fees (health fees, library fees, gym fees, lab fees, activity fees, etc) and parking which can add up to over $1200 a semester. So it's not completely free, although most schools won't tell you about those fees until you've enrolled. So many grad students in the programs I've been in have taken out small ($3000 or less) loans each year to cover the fees and incidentals that your salary might not cover (like having to get your car fixed, or booking your flight for a conference and having to wait a month to be reimbursed).
  7. Aug 17, 2010 #6
    I see, thank you.
    Is any of you non-US citizen?

    Btw, returning to my first question. I've now investigated a bit more into the issue, and I've read about quite a few of cases where graduate students have wives (and in many cases children). This still confuses however, since I don't understand where you would get the money to pay for all your child's expenses (and possibly wife since she could be a stay at home mom). I mean, I understand your stipend is designed to cover YOUR expenses. Where does the extra money come from?
  8. Aug 17, 2010 #7
    I am curious how likely it is to find a paid tuition program, and what GPA's (and research experience) typically fill these positions on average. I would really like to get into a program here that (their public informations lists) admits 29 per year, and 27 of them are on paid fellowships. It's a relatively low-key school, but I am still curious if this is even something that I am capable of doing. For me, if grad school is not paid for, it's out of the question sadly. The GI bill will only cover my undergrad. :(
  9. Aug 17, 2010 #8
    by the way...

    as you're talking about grad schools in the US, I know there are lots of factors determining where you have best chances to get admitted (like GRE, GPA, research experience, etc) but how do you make your ultimate decision where to apply (suppose you have a limit of 6 applications due to some reason, whatever)

    PS: I'm asking 'cause I'm doing my bachelor in Europe and have never been to the USA so I have no idea of the schools there besides the top ones, where it would be foolish to apply anyway (I'd be losing one of the 6 slots). Now, I know there are certain statistics out there on the internet, but should I trust them? If so, trust which ones?
  10. Aug 17, 2010 #9
    This is relevant to the title topic, but maybe not to the original question --- how is funding outside the US, e.g. in the UK? A lot of US programs offer to pay your tuition and fund you if you teach as a PhD student in the US, but I'm wondering how it works elsewhere.
  11. Aug 17, 2010 #10
    I chose based primarily on location. I knew of only a few places where I really wanted to live, so that narrowed the field considerably. The other factor was the type of research that was going on. My only research experience is in photovoltaics and it's very limited, so I looked for schools with some kind of renewable energy research that I could take part in as a physics student.

    With it narrowed down by those factors, I made sure to apply to a couple I had a decent chance of getting into and a couple that were much harder to get into.

    Also, for my first two terms I'll be a teaching assistant and that comes with a tuition waiver and a decent stipend (though for me the stipend seems on the low end compared to my friends who are going to grad school)
  12. Dec 8, 2010 #11

    I'm not sure if you have figured this out yet, but most graduate students that have children struggle greatly, and I've never heard of anyone having children in graduate school outside of having a partner that has the same or greater income as you. For instance, I'm on a stipend in that range, but my husband and I plan to have children as soon as he graduates with his bachelor's and finds a job where he might be making double what I make now. I'm sorry to say, but it would be IMPOSSIBLE to cover a stay-at-home spouse and a child on a graduate stipend from any institution I've ever heard of, unless you get a super-nice NSF Graduate Fellowship, which you have to apply for yourself (only eligible to citizens).

    The whole point of graduate school is that you're supposed to survive it and get out, and get a nice job that makes up for the meager existence you eked out in school. :-)
  13. Dec 8, 2010 #12
    I have. Me.

    I managed to do it. It's possible because the university often provides subsidized housing, healthcare, and day care. Once you spend things on those items, you will literally have nothing left, but that means that you spend the weekends in the park or in the museums.

    Ummm.... About the job.
  14. Dec 8, 2010 #13
    Me, for example.

    The university provides health care, day care and housing. For student housing and day care long wait list, but you'll eventually get in. You spend a few hundred dollars to get a beat up old car, and then expect to pay a few hundred every six months when it breaks. Then your only other expense is food, and you eat cheaply.
  15. Dec 9, 2010 #14
    True and true.

    We had no problem living on one grad student stipend and my part-time salary--combined about $40K/year--in a medium cost-of-living area (rent $600/month). In fact, we even managed to save several thousand dollars the first year we were married.
  16. Dec 9, 2010 #15
    I think many of you have overlooked the most important aspect of the OP's question. How can a married international student support himself/herself through graduate school? There are many limitations on an international student pursuing studies in US (both undergraduate and graduate):

    1. The admission is offered only when the international student provides financial proof that he/she can at least afford $30K-$40K of tuition fees and miscellaneous living expenses.
    2. Those who bring in dependants (spouses/children) have to provide financial proof for an additional $5000 for each dependant.
    3. The F-1 visa prohibits international students from taking up any off-campus employments and the dependants cannot take up any employment for at least 1 year. So any sources of additional income is virtually nil.

    Here is an example of one such financial proof form (of Michigan State University), which is generally the same for most US universities.
    http://grad.msu.edu/apply/docs/finproof.pdf [Broken]

    My brother works for Oracle in US (then H1B visa holder). When he got married, his wife was on dependant visa and the visa policies prohibited her from taking up any employment for at least a year. Although I haven't personally heard of any married international students living with dependants in US, I have heard of quite a few cases where both the spouses are enrolled in some graduate degree programme. You can explain your situation to your prospective graduate schools and ask for any possible assistance or if you have enough finances to support your spouse for 1-2 years...then it might be possible for her to take up some employment after sometime.

    PS: I didn't realize that this thread is more than 4 months old. :blushing:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  17. Dec 18, 2010 #16
    Hey thanks a lot!
    And yeah the fact that I'm an international student is very important. I might try to convince my girlfriend of going into graduate school! I think that would be very nice. Everything would be so nice if working in the USA was easier. I hate all these messy visas and permits, it's so complicated.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  18. Dec 24, 2010 #17
    So, what do international students do, if they cannot cover the minimum standards for obtaining the visa and prove that they have sufficient money to finance their first year in grad school?

    I mean, $ 50 000 is a lot of money. A 22-24 year-old student coming from a developing country, whatever it is, clearly cannot afford it, even if he strikes the jackpot in the regional lottery. What if the parents' savings aren't just enough...
  19. Dec 24, 2010 #18
    Then you just can't study there, simple as that. You might feel it's unfair, but that's how it works. Not even in the globalized world of today can anyone go anywhere.
  20. Dec 24, 2010 #19
    Echoing with Ryker, there is nothing international students can do if they cannot afford the expenses. International education continues to remain something only affordable by financially well-heeled people from developing countries. The situation is slightly better for PhD students, however, they are still required to possess sufficient funds atleast for the first year.

    http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1268.html [Broken]
    Some students do take educational loans to pay for their tuition.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  21. Dec 24, 2010 #20
    yeah, yeah, that's clear.

    I was just wondering if anyone had experienced this and how he went about it.

    As to the 'unfairness'.. well, that's a general fact of life, so nothing really new here :rofl:
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