Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Clearing the air about Grad School Funding

I initially wanted to title this post "ai pee, ai chee, ai tua liap nee" but decided not to since there are really some folks who are not exactly clear about the funding situation for graduate studies in US universities. They assume automatically that all admitted PhD hopefuls will be offered full financial support (tuition and living expenses) from their first day in school. Unfortunately, this is NOT the case. It varies from university to university, even within departments in the same institution.

For all purposes, my comments will be restricted only to the engineering and science majors.

1. Not all departments/schools will pay for your first year (or semester/quarter) of grad school. If you are unlucky with your classes/quals/adviser selection, be prepared to pay into your second year. The most likely reason is that the department is poor, even if individual professors may have plenty of research funds. Most first year grad students are not assigned to a research group.

The department is also unwilling to commit funds to someone who may not pass his/her quals or get an adviser (if they admitted too many applicants). Such a student will most likely be asked to leave either at the end of the first year or second. Read this. (Stanford is notorious for admitting too many and using quals to sift the chaff from the wheat.)

2. Because of 1, some departments require that a professor admit the applicant into his/her research group first (unofficially) before offering him/her formal admission to the university.

3. There are also departments which use full-paying grad students as cash cows, usually dumping them 1 or 2 years later with a Masters. Sad, but true.

When I applied to graduate school, I avoided those which do not provide funding for 1st years, or for students who are undecided about the prof they want to work for. I did not want to restrict my choice to a particular faculty before knowing all my options, and asking my folks for more money was out of the question. I was glad I did.


This is a reader's email to me that triggered this entry:

The apparent problem is funding for 1st year of doctoral studies.

Grad school admits international students in a different way. They DO look at financial support. Both Caltech and UCSD look at grad sch (applicant) favorably if the candidate mentions in his application that he has applied for fellowships in their own country. My guess is that they will offer admission but no support (just like the admission I obtained earlier this year from Oxford... admission with no support)

My understanding is that professors usually funds the student (using their external grants) from 2nd year onwards after they have settled in their labs (during the 1st year, students usually do rotations ... thus not committed to 1 lab). One of my classmate in berkeley said that international students will be admitted if they come with ready funding. ... she was funded by the professor in berkeley right from the start.. For john hopkins, the department funds all 1st year students irrespective of nationalities... this is markedly different from all other schools - where funding situation for 1st year international students are left hanging in the air.

So my question is : how to get admitted (even if I am outstanding) if the admission system does not cater for international students to be funded? My understanding is that the department's funds for 1st year students come from federal grants which are only admissable to US citizens.

Ai pee, ai chee, ai tua liap nee! There are other top schools which provide funding to all admitted students, for your case, BME. Anyway, if you have been working for a few years after your Bachelors, you would have some savings. Since you are really keen on several particular departments, what is one year of tuition and fees compared to the potential payoffs for the rest of your (professional) life?


ttw said...

That's very strange. For BME at least, when I applied (without mentioning any source of external funding), all my offers came with guarantees of full funding, and even in 1 case, a graduate fellowship. IMO, BME departments these days are rather flush with money...

(and no, I don't have qualifications above and beyond that of a typical grad school applicant)

takchek said...

I think it is the professors rather than the depts who are flushed with money.

Plus this guy is probably applying mostly to those depts which are stingy with funding towards (int'l)grad students.

I know the (U of) California schools are like this, together with Stanford.

k3\/ said...

do you think its harder to get funding for medical science PhD programs (run by the medical school, but not MD?)

For the average student, are good schools more generous with funding(because they have more money) or are less prestigious schools more generous(because they are trying to entice students)?

takchek said...

I think it is the latter if you are just an average (int'l) student. Extremely strong candidates would be able to get multiple offers with generous funding from the top schools.

Unless he/she is applying to Stanford? Berkeley? Heh.

Top schools can afford to be picky, even with outstanding candidates.

k3\/ said...


what do they look for anyway?

GRE and GPA? research and recommendations?

u on full funding rite? means u r qt smart la!

testtube said...

University of California schools are especially stingy wrt funding for international students because there is a huge discrepancy between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition. IIRC US residents can get to pay in-state tuition rates after a few years of residency in California, but this is impossible for international students. So it's far more expensive for the UCs to fund international students as opposed to US residents. In most other places the discrepancy in tuition between US residents and aliens is not as great.