How to Find a Fully Funded PhD Program

Many of the world’s top research universities are based in the USA, so it’s no surprise that it’s an extremely popular destination for PhD students.

Although the USA has a reputation for being an expensive place to study, there are also some fantastic opportunities for PhD funding (including many fully-funded PhD programmes for international students).

This page will give you an introduction to the cost of a typical doctorate in the USA, as well as a guide to some of the most generous forms of PhD funding available at American universities.

Pursuing a PhD can be an incredibly rewarding experience that prepares you for a career in academia, research, policy, or industry. However, the cost of earning a doctoral degree can also be prohibitive, with many students taking on significant debt to fund their studies. Thankfully, there are options to fund your PhD program completely through fellowships, teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and other funding packages offered by universities. Here’s how to find and apply for fully funded PhD programs in any field

What is a Fully Funded PhD Program?

A fully funded PhD program is one that provides financial support to cover your tuition and living expenses throughout your doctoral studies. This support typically comes in the form of:

  • Fellowships Merit-based awards given to exceptional PhD applicants that provide a stipend and cover tuition and fees. These are rarely awarded upfront but are great options to supplement funding

  • Teaching Assistantships (TA): Part-time positions where you assist a professor with teaching undergraduate courses in exchange for a salary, tuition remission, and health insurance. TAs usually work 10-20 hours per week.

  • Research Assistantships (RA): Similar to TAs but involve assisting professors with research. RAs may have lighter teaching loads than TAs.

  • External Fellowships: Awards from private foundations, non-profits, the university, or government sources that provide multi-year funding and benefits. Extremely competitive.

Fully funded programs offer some combination of these funding sources to all admitted PhD students. The key is that you don’t have to apply separately for funding – it comes as part of your acceptance.

Why Seek Fully Funded Programs

There are several reasons why fully funded PhD programs are attractive:

  • No tuition costs: All your educational expenses are covered, saving $30,000+ per year at private schools.

  • Stipend for living expenses: Most funding packages include a stipend of $15,000 – $30,000 per year for housing, food, supplies.

  • More time for research: No need to work outside of your TA or RA position means more time for studies.

  • Valuable work experience: TA and RA positions provide teaching and research skills that make you competitive on the job market.

  • Reduced debt: Graduating debt-free gives you flexibility in career options, whether in academia, industry, non-profits or government.

Basically, full funding allows you to focus on your research and program rather than worrying about finances.

Where Can You Find Fully Funded PhD Programs?

Most fully funded PhD programs are research-focused and offered in STEM disciplines like engineering, biology, computer science, and physics. However, they exist in social sciences and humanities too, including:

  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Education
  • English/Literature
  • History
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Public Policy

Here are some tips for locating fully funded options:

  • Use graduate program directories: Sites like The Physics Source, PHD Scholarship, and FindAPhD have searchable databases.

  • Google it: Simple searches like “fully funded phd english” or “phd political science full funding” can surface programs.

  • Check university department websites: Scroll to the funding or admissions section and look for mentions of guaranteed funding packages.

  • Try the ProFellow database: Lists over 700 fully funded PhD programs searchable by field and location.

  • Talk to faculty mentors: Professors often know reputable programs that offer funding.

The key is looking beyond big Ivy League names. Many state schools and smaller colleges also offer great funding packages with less competition!

What’s the Application Process for Fully Funded Programs?

Applying to funded PhD programs involves the typical steps:

  • Take required exams: GRE, GMAT or GRE subject test scores are usually required. Study and practice early!

  • Meet GPA cutoffs: Strive for minimum 3.0, but higher GPAs like 3.5+ make you more competitive.

  • Obtain letters of recommendation: Ask 3-5 professors or mentors who can speak to your research abilities. Give them at least a month.

  • Write a compelling statement: Explain your research interests, academic motivations, and goals clearly and passionately.

  • Compile research/writing samples: Show off your skills by submitting academic papers, thesis projects, published articles etc.

  • Complete program applications: Follow all required steps for your target schools. Apply to 6-10 programs.

  • Visit and interview: Make yourself memorable! Use campus visits to ask good questions and demonstrate your enthusiasm.

  • Highlight funding need: Clearly indicate your interest in TA, RA or fellowship support in essays and interviews.

The process requires planning but is very doable. Securing strong letters of recommendation and acing your writing samples are key!

Final Tips for Fully Funded PhD Programs

  • Apply early: Funding decisions are often made before the formal admission deadline, so apply in the fall or early winter.

  • Ask about funding timelines: Some funding packages only cover 4 years, so inquire about options to extend if your program takes longer.

  • Be open-minded about support types: TA and RA options provide the best experience. Don’t limit yourself by only looking for fellowships.

  • Have a backup plan: Apply to a mix of funded and unfunded programs, in case you don’t receive funding at your top choice.

  • Enroll full-time: Part-time programs usually don’t qualify for university funding; make sure yours is full-time.

The bottom line is that fully funded PhD programs remove the financial barriers that might otherwise prevent prospective students from pursuing their doctorate. With proper research and planning, you can absolutely find and succeed in programs that provide full funding packages and graduate debt-free!

how to find fully funded phd program

American PhD funding – what you need to know first

As we’ve already mentioned, the USA has an expensive reputation – but you shouldn’t let that put you off.

There’s a reason why such a large number of American universities can be found among the top-ranked in the world: many institutions have huge budgets and endowments, allowing them to offer generous fully-funded PhD scholarships to graduate students (regardless of nationality).

These are a few key points to bear in mind when beginning your search for PhD funding in the USA:

  • Public universities in the United States differentiate between in-state and out-of-state when it comes to fees, so you won’t necessarily be charged more than an out-of-state domestic student if you’re an international student
  • Private universities don’t distinguish between domestic and international students
  • It’s common for universities to offer ‘full-ride’ PhD scholarships to talented grad students
  • The Fulbright Commission administers several funding schemes for international students to complete their research in the USA
  • Federal student loans are available to US nationals

Applying for a Fulbright Postgraduate Award

The application process for a Fulbright Award usually opens in August, with a deadline in early November.

You’ll need to make an online application with the following documents/details:

  • Academic transcripts
  • CV
  • Passport photo
  • Personal statement
  • References
  • Research objectives

You’ll also need to complete a separate application to the university you want to do your PhD at.

Shortlisted candidates will be invited to attend an interview in the following February.

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Do PhD programs offer full funding?

Though rare, some PhD programs offer full funding for all accepted students. Understandably, the admission process is highly competitive for fully funded PhD programs. Students who don’t meet strict criteria – and aren’t offered full funding – will be expected to pay for their tuition and other study expenses.

How do I find fully funded PhD programs?

Using the right keywords, you might be able to find fully funded programs easily. Try to search phrases that include the term “fully funded Ph.D. program” alongside the discipline you want to study. Alternatively, you may be able to find these opportunities by searching for phrases like “Ph.D. assistantships” in the discipline of your choice. 2.

What is a fully funded Doctoral Program?

A “fully funded” doctoral or master’s program is a graduate degree program that offers a “full funding” package to ALL students accepted to the program.

How much does a PhD cost?

With the average cost of a PhD at nearly $100,000, students are able to focus on their studies without worrying about paying for their degrees or living expenses. Keep reading to learn about some of the top fully funded PhD programs in a variety of majors. What is a “Doctorate of Philosophy” degree?

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