You have done your research, thought about your future, and are now ready to apply to graduate programs. While the prospect of doing research, engaging in academia, and starting a new career is exciting, the potential costs can feel like an insurmountable burden. However, that does not have to be the case! Whether you are planning to attend a PhD or master’s program in the humanities or social sciences, there are many steps you can take to reduce the cost of tuition and cover living expenses during your graduate studies. In this post, I will take you through some of the ways you can be proactive to ensure that your new career change is feasible and doesn’t leave you with massive debt along with your new degree.
Master’s programs and PhD programs differ quite a bit in terms of how long they are and how much independent funding you will need to secure, so let’s start with humanities and social sciences master’s programs. That said, if you are an aspiring PhD student, the following information will also be very useful for your purposes.
When to look
Master’s programs in the humanities and social sciences usually last one to two years and often provide little to no funding as part of the admissions package. Since the programs are short, you will need to apply to funding sources at the same time you apply to your chosen programs. This is because once you have entered the program, you might have already missed out on some helpful opportunities. That said, if you are currently in year one of a two-year program, it is not too late to think about funding for the second year. Obtaining funding is often a continuous process for graduate students.
Where to look
When looking for these sources of funding, start with the school and then move outward to make sure you don’t miss any opportunities. For example, let’s say you are applying to a two-year master’s in public policy program, and the department does not offer any funding. That does not mean that the university overall has no potential sources of funding. There could be scholarships and/or fellowships offered through think tanks, institutes, general graduate research funding, library fellowships, interdisciplinary studies, other departments, and so on. As you research the program you are planning to attend, research the university, as well! There might even be affiliations or special funding projects through government or private endowments from organizations such as the National Science Foundation or the Mellon Foundation. Search university webpages for information on these opportunities (beyond your program’s home page). Your other major resource are the graduate students currently in the program. If you plan to reach out to any of them for information about the program, don’t forget to ask them about their funding. You might also wish to check out any publicly available CVs from graduate students (found on websites such as LinkedIn or through departmental listings) to see what fellowships and scholarships they have won.
Besides fellowships and grants, which usually involve obtaining money for your research, there are often teaching opportunities, such as teaching assistantships. These can vary wildly depending on the school, but for some universities, you do not necessarily have to be in a particular department to be a teaching assistant (TA). So, even if there is no such opportunity through your chosen program, there might be opportunities available in adjacent programs related to your field of study. These TA-ships can often include tuition remission and a stipend, which makes them time-consuming but valuable ways to obtain money for school.
Next, think about professional organizations. Professionals in sociology have the American Sociological Association, history professionals have the American Historical Association, and so on. In addition, the major national associations usually have regional chapters, and smaller organizations (usually organized around a specific historical figure, theoretical school, time period, or research focus) also usually abound. Learning about these organizations can not only lead to you uncovering funding opportunities but also help you begin to network in your chosen profession.
PhD programs differ from master’s programs in many ways, but for our purposes, the two most important are time to degree and funding expectations. PhD programs usually take at least four years. At the time of acceptance, applicants are usually offered a funding package that details a mix of fellowships, grants, and TA-ships intended to fund a portion of their graduate study. Sometimes, you will be accepted to a program without funding. Given the demands of graduate study and the long time to degree, it is generally ill-advised to enroll in a program without at least some of your years funded. However, having funding in place does not mean that you will not need to look for additional fellowships, grants, and other such funding options.
When to look
Just as for master’s programs, it is a good idea to start looking for funding opportunities at the same time you complete your admissions applications. However, in the case of PhD programs, you have many years ahead. Part of your professionalization is to learn the processes for obtaining funding (a common and necessary practice for students, professors, and researchers alike!). With this in mind, make searching for funding part of your academic responsibilities, in addition to coursework and research, throughout your time in school.
Where to look
Many of the places beyond your immediate program to look for funding have been outlined in the master’s program section, but there are some additional specifics to keep in mind for PhD programs:
- Funding for PhD programs is generally categorized by stage of the program: the pre-dissertation stage, the dissertation stage, and the first few years after obtaining one’s PhD (aka postdoc). The same organization or department might offer funding for only one stage or for multiple stages of your graduate study. That is why it is important to look for funding consistently throughout your time in the program.
- You might be able to teach beyond what is offered in your funding package. There could be opportunities to teach in your department or in other departments on campus beyond the initial offer. Ask early on about what additional teaching opportunities exist to make sure you’ll be prepared to take advantage of them. After you have obtained your master’s degree (which usually happens partway through a PhD program), you are often qualified to lecture at some universities and colleges. Find those institutions nearby and check out their hiring requirements for temporary lecturers.
- Professors often have a long-standing knowledge of funding sources in their field of study. Talk with your advisors to learn this insider knowledge.
- Find funding based on your research interests! For example, if you are a history PhD student who focuses on religion, your interests might intersect with language study, gender, politics, literature, or other such area. Each area of interest has organizations and research funding opportunities for which you might be eligible.
Overall, obtaining funding can be a time-consuming process. However, by working on it consistently, you will gain not only money to support your studies but also valuable skills and professional acknowledgments that will help you build your CV and advance your career upon graduation.
Vanessa Febo has ten years of experience teaching academic and professional writing at UCLA, with a special certification in teaching writing techniques. She has drawn on this expertise to guide clients to placements at top institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, and USC. Before joining Accepted, Vanessa coached UCLA students through the application process for graduate programs, major grants, fellowships, and scholarships, including the Fulbright, Stanford Knight-Hennessey, and the Ford Foundation Fellowship. Additionally, Vanessa has extensive experience successfully guiding clients through applications for a diverse range of programs, including those in business, humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields. Want Vanessa to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!