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The Cost of Grad School?

  1. Aug 12, 2008 #1
    Hi, so I'm a little bit confused about how everything works financially in the US of A, what will my costs be?

    If I apply, and am offered a TA'ship does this mean they will cancel my fees? Is it the norm to pay fees, or is it the norm to have them waived? How do you go about getting them waived as an international student? Where can I find a good list of scholarships for international students?

    I'm pretty worried, is it normal to have to pay in the tens of thousands per year? and put that all into debt?

    Many Thanks

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2008 #2
    It's my understanding that if a US gradschool accept you to the programme, they also except full financial responsibility for you for the duration, international/domestic.
    (But because of this you find it harder to be accepted to a state school than a private school of the same calibre. Since they are funded by US taxpayers, and may have a smaller financial quota for international students). You will not have to pay tuition fees, and will be supported typically via a TAship for the first year or two, followed by an RA after the qual.

    If you are accepted somewhere you won't need an external scholarship (although it may be nice as you won't need to teach,and it will also boost your chances of getting into places as they won't have to shell out money from their own pocket). This place lists a few:

    That's my understanding of it anyway, I'm also an international student (from the UK) applying for fall 2009, so I hope the above it correct :smile:
  4. Aug 12, 2008 #3


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    There may be a few inaccuracies here.

    1. Not all schools automatically offer TAships or financial assistantships to all incoming grad students. High-endowed schools such as Stanford, Yale, etc. do give those out, but these are the exceptions rather than the rule. So one can be accepted into a graduate program without any kind of financial assistance.

    2. A TA'ship usually includes full tuition and fees waiver, meaning you do not pay for those expenses.

    3. Getting one of these assistantships means you have to compete with other applicants AND those who are already there. It depends entirely on how big of a workforce the department needs. Being an international student usually has no bearing on this except for an evaluation on one's ability to speak and write fluently in English. So if you come from a non-english speaking country, there are schools that will not offer you an assistantship until you arrive and demonstrate such ability, with or without high TOEFL scores.

    4. There are no "quota" that I know of for state schools on the number of international students being graduate assistance.

    5. One seldom goes through the whole graduate program being a TA. At some point, you usually find an adviser who has grant money to hire you as a research assistant. Same thing, except that you don't have any teaching responsibilities.

    6. The school does NOT guarantee or is responsible for giving you such financial aid for the duration of your program. While they tend to renew your TA'ship appointment every year, there's no guarantee of any kind that this will occur. Same thing with RA'ship. If your supervisor has a change of heart, or if he/she loses research grant money, there's no guarantee that you will continue with your RA'ship.

    I've covered more of this in Chap. VI of "So You Want To Be A Physicist".

  5. Aug 12, 2008 #4
    That's a little worrying.Although I have to say, that nearly all the gradschools Ive looked at in particle physics have automatically offered it. I can't recall one that hasn't.

    Sorry, I didn't mean quota of international students accepted. I meant quota of the gradschools annual funding (portion would have been a better word), allocated to funding international students. From what I understand state schools cannot allocate much of the tax/federal based funding they recieve to international students(in the same way international students are not allowed to claim federal financial aid). Whereas private schools like Caltech can give their funds to whoever like, even if it meant 100% of internationals one year and zero domestic students. So this would imply to me that competition would be much more equal between US students and internationals for a private gradschool. However for a public school, US students may be admitted with much lower grades than internationals, whilst the international students fight it out for the few scraps of funding.

    Again, I'm also trying to learn about this process, so let me know if you think the above is not true. From what I've heard the UC schools are notoriously hard for international students to be accepted, which really worries me as I was planning on applying to a host of these schools.

    I'm sure being externally funded (by scholarship or otherwise) would vastly improve an international students (or domestic students for that matter) chances of admission. The only scholarship for international students from the UK I can find however is the Fulbright scholarship. Seems like it would be next to impossible to obtain that though.
  6. Aug 12, 2008 #5
    It isn't. None of the schools I applied to(I live in the US and Im a citizen) do not automatically offer any support unless your a PhD student. If your an MS student chances are you will have to ask and beg like everyone else. The only school that would give me any kind of support was the one I got my BSME from. Made making the decision of what school to go to pretty easy.
  7. Aug 12, 2008 #6

    Yes I will be enrolling as a PhD student, and was assuming that ScotchDave would be in the above discussion.
  8. Aug 12, 2008 #7
    DO NOT underestimate and leave out the cost of living too. Staying and continuing in grad school is MUCH MUCH MORE difficult than getting into grad school.

    Depending on where you go to school, coming in as an international student with no family/friends to live with, the cost of living will dramatically be higher than the cost of tuition. Either way, you'll have to get a part-time job or loans to pay for cost of living. IMO, if you can find a decent apartment, it beats out living at a grad dorm in terms of cost.

    CA has rents as high as $2,500 a month to low as $700-$1000 if you're lucky to get one at that cost and don't mind living in a bad/ghetto neighborhood. And that's just for RENT alone, not including the other expenses. So, it depends on where you'll be living in for the next couple of years.

    I was offered a RA for MS to PhD program for physics at Santa Cruz. But I couldn't bare taking out anywhere from 40-60k loan JUST for living expenses alone to complete the PhD program (So damn expensive to live in CA). If I ever had to take out that much, it would of been for med school or a guaranteed-work field or a down payment for a house. Even though I wouldn't have to pay for tuition, living in CA alone, even with roommates would require me to work full time just to get by.

    Even if offered a TA/RA, tuition may be covered completely, but the stipend they offer may not be enough. I'm luck to get a RA to help pay for tuition and even luckily to live at home to go to school. So my debt is pretty much zero.
  9. Aug 12, 2008 #8


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    Like I said, universities with huge endowment usually give some form of assistantships to almost every incoming physics graduate students. Stanford is an example. Smaller schools don't have that luxury, so you could get accepted but without any form of assistantships. In fact, many grad students coming directly from China, for example, are support by their home institutions.

    I wasn't referring to fellowships or awards given out by NSF or DOE, which are exclusive only to US citizens. I was referring to TA'ships and RA'ships. Those have no quota nor are they exclusively for US citizens.

  10. Aug 12, 2008 #9
    Just to clear things up, I will be applying for a PhD. Also fizziks, I am expecting to complete my PhD with some amount of debt, it's just it would be nice if it wasn't too much.

    I hope to live with my GF, so we can have a SMALL appartment and split the rent and bills. How much do utility bills tend to be in the good old US of A per month? Also are students exempt from tax? What sort of range of stipends do people tend to get, because really, If I'm getting 15000 a year I'm guessing that would be the rent and utilities paid.

    Then I only need to worry about food costs and commuting, but if I live closer than 4 miles I can run in, and closer than 10 miles I can cycle in. After that there's only food, what do you guys estimate your food costs at per month?
  11. Aug 12, 2008 #10


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    I'm currently in grad school at a US state university with a small department and not a lot of money. But they do not accept any graduate students into the physics department that they cannot offer funding to, and they will commit to offering your funding throughout your graduate career (in the form of a TA or RA). And this is the norm. Every school is expected to offer funding to all incoming physics students. If they don't offer you a tuition waiver, go elsewhere! Someone else will.

    In addition to waiving your tuition costs, they will also give you a stipend, typically between 13k and 25k a year depending on where the school is located. In many places, this will cover minimal housing and food. If you want a car and better housing/food options, many students will take out a few thousand a year in loans.

    The tuition waiver often does NOT cover university fees, which at my school amounts to about $3,000 a year - so we have to save that from our stipends, or take out loans to cover it (it's mostly health insurance). I spend a few hundred on food a month, but then, I like to cook and I'm not 22 anymore - I can't live on Ramen like some people.
  12. Aug 12, 2008 #11
    Very true. While some university's won't automatically wave tuition and offer stipends, there are plenty reputable ones that do. In fact, nearly all of my friends who graduated this past year going on to attend graduate school have had their tuition waved and are getting a salary from ta'ing and then doing research.

    At my university, grad students get free tuition and housing if they apply to be a graduate assistant (for an entire resident hall) in addition to a small salary!
  13. Aug 12, 2008 #12
    One year during my undergrad, I lived off of about $1100 a month and managed to bank a good amount of that. Most of it went into my POS car(s). This next coming year, so far my only income is my stipend :eek: and about 69.53% of that goes to rent and utilities :eek::eek: Fortunately I am 22 and can live off of ramen noodles. However I have been working full time as an engineer while living at home and have banked a good amount of coin so I got some money to fall back on. But I am still worried about the summer.

    I've got some connections in case I cant get anything from the school but it would nice not live off of ramen noodles for at least a couple days. What do you guys do for the summer periods?
  14. Aug 12, 2008 #13


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    My grad school pays us over a 12-month period instead of 9, so we aren't left without a salary in the summer - either coming from the TA your did during the year or your RA, which continues over the summer (and usually pays a bit more for that reason).
  15. Aug 13, 2008 #14
    I'm just starting grad school in a not-so-cheap part of California and the standard range is perhaps $600-$900 for shared housing. Sure, if you want to rent a brand new 2 bedroom place in an exceedingly convenient location you might be running 2.5k, but your number really is ridiculous.
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