Graduate School Funding Decisions

Introduction: In our last post we discussed the daunting acceptance and rejection process of graduate applications. This week we are highlighting an integral part of that process which is, applying, receiving, and maintaining funding for graduate studies. Before accepting an offer to any university, you should always know the “price of admission” or how much tuition will cost without internal or external funding. It is our collective experience that it is better to accept an offer from a university that is willing to fully fund you for a higher degree. There are a variety of opinions when it comes to funding for graduate schools and below are just some of our experiences: 

Dragana: When applying for grad school, funding is something important to consider and plan for. We all hope that the schools we are accepted into will have enough funding to offer incoming students, but that is not always the case and especially now with COVID-19. We have seen a lot of universities cutting funding overall and this results in fewer funding opportunities for students. My advice would be to accept a school that offers you funding because it waives your tuition which is the biggest cost factor. While you are still responsible for taxes and fees, it is not nearly as much as tuition (keep in mind that different universities and programs offer different funding packages). With that being said, you might still have to take out student loans. If you have no funding through your program, there are fellowships that are available to students—some require an application and some don’t, so just be sure to research them properly. Often second year students who did not get funding for their first year do end up getting it, but that is not something that you should rely on.

Ultimately, if you are applying for grad school you already have an idea of how much your degree is going to cost. If you attend a university in your state, then tuition costs will be lower than for an out-of-state university. As acceptance letters have been sent out and decision time is approaching, I wish all of you the best and hopefully our posts are able to assist you in some way with funding opportunities.  

Clayton: While simply getting accepted into a graduate program is a major accomplishment, finding the funding for the program is also a major concern for anyone looking to attend graduate school. Graduate school is far from cheap, so in many cases the decision whether to attend a program or not is tied directly to what funding is offered along with the acceptance. When I was first accepted into the graduate program at USF, I was told that all the graduate assistant positions in the History Department were already filled. There was no more funding in the department for any more GAs. While this was initially disappointing, admittedly I was not fully sure what a GA position meant and what funding it would provide.

This all happened in February of 2018, and throughout the rest of the spring and summer I went about preparing to attend the History program at USF. I had made the decision to attend the program even though I didn’t receive any funding. Although I was excited to begin the program, the finances were always in the back of my mind. Then, with less than two weeks before classes began, I received an email saying a spot had suddenly opened up for a GA, and it was being offered to me. It was at this time I also realized how much funding was provided to GAs. I was worried about whether I would be able to handle the combined graduate workload and the GA workload, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. It was a sudden change to my graduate school plans but looking back it was an amazing opportunity that changed so much. 

Kiri: Funding is an important facet when considering which schools to apply to or whether you should accept an admittance. For my MA program, I did not receive funding my first year and it put a lot of extra strain on my ability to do work because I had to find outside employment. I was lucky, however, because I had recently moved back in with my parents and my family helped to support me whenever I needed it. I was thus in a privileged enough position to accept a position at USF without funding for the first year. I received funding in my second year as an MA, and for me the lack of funding for the first year did not outweigh the merits of pursuing my MA.

When I was looking for PhD programs, however, I knew I would have to go to a place that offered me funding, or I would not be able to go at all. When I received my acceptance into FSU, I did not hear about funding until a much later date because I was shortlisted. During this period, I couldn’t help but begin to question myself and my worth, especially as I later learned that my funding package was a bit more limited than the fellowship packages a lot of my peers received. It’s hard to not tie your worth to your funding package, or lack thereof, because it feels like a solidified value that the institution ascribed to you. Even today, the limits of my funding package cause me anxiety because a lot of stress and tendrils of imposter syndrome stem from questions of why I was not “good enough” to earn a fellowship package. However, funding (much like acceptances) is not some hard-set determination of your worth. It’s important to understand your own needs when looking for schools and remember not to settle for a package that would cause too much strain or stress. For some, a full funding package is needed to attend a graduate program, but for others the funding isn’t as necessary. Both are okay, but it’s important to understand where you fall on the spectrum before committing to a program. 

Chelsi: Last week I mentioned that I had applied to eight schools and gotten into two for my PhD. What helped me make the decision from two very similar state schools was primarily the different funding packages I received. FSU was the first school to tell me about my acceptance and very quickly gave me a strong fellowship package that included a year of research funding. A few weeks later, I was nominated for a minority scholarship for incoming graduate students by the department. My other package was a run of the mill assistantship funding, where I would be working for five years for my tuition waiver and would have to fund research through other methods. Considering the cost of living in each city, FSU was definitely the better offer.

But there were other things to consider as well. When I had initially looked into the schools there were less professors at FSU in my area of study. I was also apprehensive about moving closer to family and staying in Florida, where I had been my entire life. I didn’t immediately jump for the bigger package, but asked around with friends, professors, and family of what they thought would be better. Ultimately, I email both schools asking for a visit, to sit in on some classes and meet the professors I would possibly be working with in person. FSU paid for my visit and the other school essentially told me they couldn’t afford it. Money doesn’t mean everything, and I may have been better off at the other school, but as someone coming from a poor background, just knowing that I would be more financially sound at FSU meant much less stress to worry about overall.

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