54

I graduated last year with a BS in Computer Science. I do not come from a particularly wealthy family, (very low middle class), and was only able to afford my education via school loans/scholarships and working low-wage jobs, with no support from my family or anyone else. I realize some scholarship/loan programs extend into grad school. But I don't think those cover all costs.

Now I'm lucky enough to have a decent-paying salary in industry, along with benefits and living on my own, and I'm thinking one day (sooner rather than later) I'd like to try my hand at research or continue my degree, but these things cost money, in addition to my regular living expenses.

I read posts here often about academic people being in positions of choosing between these crazy research grad programs, some in Japan, or Ireland (while they currently live in the U.S./U.K.) then moving around between countries/universities often for their SO's education or to pursue a new research interest. I'd love to live somewhere else for a while and do research.

I'm becoming increasingly jealous of the people with these opportunities - assuming I were to even get into one, how can I afford these programs, especially given the fact that people working in/during Academia generally don't make as much as those in Industry?

Is it simply a matter of having a wealthy family/connection or saving up? Am I missing something here?

  • 23
    @GEdgar in the Netherlands and Germany graduate students in the humanities and the arts are routinely employees. When they are not employees then many will receive a stipend instead. – Maarten Buis Aug 1 '18 at 15:48
  • 19
    In the US, there is growing concern among academics in the humanities and social sciences that only wealthy students can afford to go to graduate school in those subjects. The situation is somewhat different in those fields than in science and engineering. – Brian Borchers Aug 1 '18 at 16:08
  • 9
    Even in the humanities and social sciences where funding directly for research is more limited, graduate students often support themselves through teaching and project assistantships. The issue is that these are less likely to be guaranteed than in the non-social sciences, math, and engineering. – Bryan Krause Aug 1 '18 at 17:14
  • 7
    What do you consider "lavish"? – Azor Ahai Aug 1 '18 at 17:19
  • 46
    "Am I missing something here" yes, you're missing that the people doing so are living the same way you did in your undergrad (shoestring budget 1 bedroom apt or roommates) sometimes into their 30's. If you're imagining a typical US middle class equivalent lifestyle while doing those things, then yeah, only if you're independently well-off. – Jared Smith Aug 2 '18 at 13:42

16 Answers 16

52

There is a kind of survivorship bias here. Many graduate students do not have access to funding or significant personal wealth, and are not able to complete PhDs at all - let alone very expensive ones. If you ask people who did complete PhDs about their financial resources or education costs you will over-estimate both, because the graduate students who complete PhDs are likely to have had more resources than those who did not.

In my cohort (a social science program at an R1 in the U.S.) there were perhaps 30 students accepted, of which only a handful had financial support (they were paid teaching assistants, which came with some tuition remission). Of course, once we completed our M.A.s most did not progress to PhD work. We took jobs outside of academia. Certainly our economic or financial situations were a large part of this.

Contrary to Buffy's answer, in my cohort financial hardship was common. Tuition and fees for out-of-state students for us was about $30,000 per year. Even living inexpensively at that point means that you would need a good full-time entry level salary (in our area) to cover your basic expenses.

On the other hand, the few students with departmental support continued on to complete doctoral programs. Some others with significant personal wealth were able to complete Ph.D. work also, but at least among the people in my cohort, that was only a clear factor for perhaps 1-2 people. Debt for unfunded graduate students is almost a foregone conclusion.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Aug 2 '18 at 20:18
  • 10
    I fear that this being the selected answer for a question that explicitly mentions Computer Science (CS) PhD programs could be slightly misleading. As has been said elsewhere, In the US/UK/Canada students admitted to a PhD program in CS do not pay tuition, and receive a (usually modest) stipend. Moreover, they often do internships in companies, which can easily double their income. Of course there is still a question of missed opportunity costs. – Sasho Nikolov Aug 4 '18 at 12:08
  • 3
    Nothing against this answer, but it seems to answer a completely different question! Just commenting because I'm confused why it was accepted. OP asks "how am I supposed to afford this", and this answer says "many others cannot afford it either" and "those who have money are more likely to succeed". Both true, but not an answer to the question at all. – AnoE Aug 5 '18 at 20:34
  • 1
    @AnoE I accepted it because it was the more general answer - and because it points something out that no other answer did, which is indeed the survivorship bias. I've looked around a bit and not all CS PhDs pay their students. Maybe it's the area I'm living in that's the issue. But it proves that it's not as black and white as people say it is in other answers here. There was a lot of really good answers so it wasn't easy to choose, because I think they're all correct to an extent (though I'm unsure why the top voted one is a random fact about Germany when I tagged US) – Programmer Aug 6 '18 at 12:37
  • 2
    @Programmer The impression is that you accepted the answer conforming to your preconceptions. After having lived in multiple countries (including the US), I have not met a single PhD student in the sciences (or CS) who did not receive a stipend or equivalent. – Szabolcs Aug 7 '18 at 10:54
76

Bachelor and Master degrees are a lot cheaper in Germany. In fact, they are mostly free (you need to organize and pay for your housing and living). For a PhD you don't pay but get paid, often with employee status, but sometimes with a stipend instead. So financial issue pose significantly less of a constraint compared to the USA.

  • 7
    Comp Sci graduate students in the U.S. (both Master's and Ph.D.) are usually graduate assistants, at least in my experience. Their tuition is covered fully and they're additionally given housing and living stipends. They're not paid nearly as much as a job in industry, of course, but it's typically enough to get by through school. Of course, undergraduate degrees are a different matter (though, at least in my state, it was pretty easy to get those paid for with scholarships... I had so many scholarships that the university paid me about $7,000/yr to get my B.S. in Comp Sci.) – reirab Aug 2 '18 at 8:08
  • 6
    Same case in France. Higher education is almost free and you get paid as a PhD. The pay isn't crazy but enough to raise a family at least. – ThePassenger Aug 2 '18 at 10:01
  • 4
    Yet the question is tagged US – ThePassenger Aug 2 '18 at 10:08
  • 13
    @Marine1 There is an increasing number (admittedly from a small base) of students from US who avoid the tuition fees by studying in Germany. So this is one possible solution. – Maarten Buis Aug 2 '18 at 11:43
  • 4
    @jpmc26 ofcourse, the question is written from the perspective of the student, and so is the answer. That does not change the fact that providing tertiary education is expensive, and if that money does not come from tuitions, then it has to come from somewhere else. In case of Germany, that is the taxpayer. Whether this is the right way to spent that money is a continuous debate here, and the outcome of that democratic process is for now that it is paid for by the taxpayer. This is very much a contious and democratic decision rather than a "historical accident", so I am fine with that choice. – Maarten Buis Aug 3 '18 at 18:43
55

In many places, including the US, study for the doctorate, though perhaps not so much for the Master's. comes with some sort of funding. The funding is often dependent on work, either in a lab or as a TA (the most common case). In popular fields, such as math and CS, doctoral granting institutions also normally teach a lot of undergraduates. It is normally much more than what the full-time faculty can handle. I studied math long ago and there were two funded doctoral students for every faculty member. About 70 faculty and 140 TAs. We made dirt scratching wages, but it was enough, but only because our housing was also subsidized. I finished with a small family and a doctorate. My spouse was also a student in a different field with little funding.

But doctoral study isn't just tuition driven as undergraduate study is in much of the US.

Being a full time employee somewhere and also a full time doctoral candidate, however, is very difficult. If you have substantial financial obligations it is even more difficult unless you can find a part-time program (which exist).

However, if you can live on poverty level income for a while, you can earn a doctorate without substantial debt. It isn't the fastest way to a degree, of course, since you are a part-time employee, but it can be a good trade off. Note also that tuition isn't normally charged to TAs. However, US tax law is gettin weird. Some want to treat the tuition "grant" as taxable income, which becomes impossible to cover, given the low pay. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. It is as if some people want a stupid citizenry. I'm not certain of the current state of that proposal.

If you intend to be a teaching scholar (as in the US) then a TA position will help you learn the art of teaching (by osmosis, mostly), so it contributes to the overall goal. But if you intend to be a research scholar, look for a funded lab that will get you deeper into the research a bit earlier.

I don't have personal experience in Europe, but from colleagues, I get the idea that doctoral students are more or less regular employees that do most of the things that regular faculty do, up to and including advising of other doctoral students. One friend successfully advised a doctorate for another student, but left without his own. These sorts of things seem to occur both in UK and in Germany, at least, but others there can give a more complete picture. The positions have a lot of responsibility, but you are low ranked and only adequately paid. But enough to raise a family at least, if that is an issue. Such positions of responsibility are uncommon in the US.


Caveat. My experience and the above is from Mathematics, computer science and some of the other "hard" sciences (what ever that means). It differs in other fields. See other answers here for very different situations: say indigochild. Someone has to be willing to pay for the support, government, foundations, industry, etc. Or the candidate as the last resort.

  • 12
    It appears that the proposal to tax the tuition grants was killed shortly after being floated due to strong negative reactions. vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/12/15/16778862/… – Dan Neely Aug 1 '18 at 20:02
  • 2
    Even still, grad student wages are harder to stomach if you have less of a safety net, little savings, or no partner. I haven't heard of subsidized housing existing for grad students for quite a while now – Azor Ahai Aug 1 '18 at 20:47
  • 6
    Good answer, but in my European experience, doctoral students don't formally advise other doctoral students. In Germany, they may supervise BA students, in Austria not even that is allowed. – henning Aug 1 '18 at 21:16
  • 7
    When undergrad students were interested in applying for graduate programs, my advisor (engineering) would frequently tell them "if they [the program] aren't paying for you, then they don't really want you". Your research/TA work should cover your tuition and at least some living expenses. Avoiding schools in high cost-of-living areas helps tremendously with stretching salaries/stipends. It's a step up from being a normal college student, but might be a lifestyle compromise for someone coming from industry. – bta Aug 1 '18 at 22:13
  • 1
    Grad student stipends can vary a lot between places/departments, but certainly my experience (in a prestigious CS department in a relatively inexpensive city, which admittedly might be best-case) was nowhere near "poverty wages"; my stipend was ~2.5 times the official poverty rate for a single person, and still above the official rate for a family of 4. Of course the official poverty rate is not an ideal measure, and if you have substantial outside debts / obligations / etc things might be tight, but most grad stipends in CS at least are fairly livable. – Dougal Aug 1 '18 at 22:26
34

Since the question is tagged US, I will answer with that perspective.

There are three very different types of programs that generally are referred to as graduate degrees: PhD, masters, and professional (MD, JD).

Professional degrees generally cost a lot, with the understanding that they are a ticket to a high-paying career that will pay off the enormous cost (>$100k), usually involving some large loan.

Masters degrees are shorter, which makes them a bit cheaper. However, unless you are lucky enough to get a scholarship or do them via a PhD program, they will cost something like $30k—$100k. People often use them to pivot their career or get into the US from abroad. However, one way to get a “free” masters is “on the way” to completing a PhD. For me, the masters requirements were a subset of the PhD requirements and I just needed to fill out a form to get a masters, which was entirely optional. Most North American PhD programs will give you a masters too and the cost is covered as part of the PhD.

Research doctorates (PhDs) are very different. Students are almost universally paid either as a teaching assistant (TA) or a research assistant (RA) or a mix of both. This will usually cover the cost of tuition, health insurance, and a modest living for single person ($15k-$35k). In some sense PhDs are free, except you will spend 5+ years doing it rather than doing a more highly-paid job; so make sure you enjoy it!

The duties of a TA/RA will vary considerably from program to program, and from advisor to advisor. I was very lucky and basically got paid to do my own research, plus three semesters of reasonably laid-back teaching. If you are less lucky, you will be working in a lab for 80 hours a week or teaching 100 undergrad students more or less on your own. An RA is dependent on your advisor having research funding and a TA is dependent on there beingnclasses for you to help teach. Definitely investigate the expectations before joining a PhD program!

  • 8
    "PhDs are free" LOL. i'll sell you mine for $5 – user96140 Aug 1 '18 at 20:23
  • Thank you for explaining each step of degree and how much they cost. So basically I just need to be able to "afford" a master degree, and then "survive" my PhD. – Programmer Aug 2 '18 at 15:03
  • 5
    @Programmer, masters is not a prerequisite for a research PhD in the U.S. in many fields. Most applicants don't have one. – usul Aug 2 '18 at 16:52
  • @usul That's great to know! Thank you. Makes more sense now. – Programmer Aug 2 '18 at 17:14
  • 1
    @Programmer It's possible to get research or teaching funding during a masters, as well. Probably more easily if you're picking up a masters on your way to a PhD. – Ray Aug 2 '18 at 19:28
11

Everyone has to decide for themselves what they want with their lives.

Take yourself, for example. You have a decent-paying job in industry, but you also want to try your hand at research. Are you willing to take a ~50% pay cut so you can "try your hand" at research? If your answer is no, then that's why you can't afford higher education - you value the things the higher pay can provide more than you value higher education. Someone else might say yes, and that's why they can afford it. It is no different from e.g. buying a car. How do people even afford to buy a car? Those things are no less expensive than a Masters degree.

Do you really want to do higher education? If so, you can find the money to do it, especially since you have a decent-paying job (I for example saved >60% of my monthly salary). Even if you don't have a decent-paying job, there are plenty of scholarships and bursaries you can apply for. Where there's a will there's a way.

Having said all this don't feel bad if you genuinely think that higher education isn't worth it. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Giving up a decent-paying job to go down an uncertain career path is not necessarily a good life decision, and few things are worse than spending several years chasing a PhD before realizing one doesn't actually want to do graduate study (example, example). If you really care about research and are willing to sacrifice other things to do it, then by all means, but you shouldn't feel jealous about not doing it.

  • 4
    -1 For suggesting that individuals decide what they want to do with their lives. While individuals can choose between options, and occasionally fashion their own - generally, it is powerful social forces, concentrated in the hands of influential minorities, that determine the distributions of what most people do. – einpoklum Aug 4 '18 at 17:43
  • 3
    @einpoklum You are very right. But I suspect the ones best suited for specializing in the way a PhD is crafted are usually not very sensitive to those forces. Their happiness when socially acknowledged is at most like 1/100 or 1/1000 compared to that feeling of making a new discovery in their favourite playground, err.. research area. – mathreadler Aug 6 '18 at 13:58
  • @einpoklum That's a non-sequitur. If I go out on the street offering people $100 no strings attatched, most will take them. The distribution of what most people do is determined. But that doesn't mean they didn't decide what they wanted to do. – sgf Apr 29 at 12:28
5

I read posts here often about academic people being in positions of choosing being these crazy research grad programs, some in Japan, or Ireland (while they currently live in the U.S./U.K.) then moving around between countries/universities often for their SO's education or to pursue a new research interest. I'd love to live somewhere else for a while and do research.

You make it sound like a wonderful thing. In reality, the person you are mentioning were struggling so hard with the two-body problem. And believe me, it is not nice at all to fall into the so called ``postdoc trap'', and move to a new continent every two or three years.

Contrary to what you think, most graduate students are not from wealthy family. Most of them are from China, India, eastern EU, third-world countries, who wants to have a better life via education.

People from wealthy family often have better opportunities, and they are not willing to work several years with minimum wage just to earn a PhD. Also they often have an easy life since they were born, and don't have the determination to complete a PhD.

I'm from a South East Asian country whose GDP per capita is around $2000 per year. So even people in upper middle class earn less than people in extreme poverty in the US. There are rich people, e.g. from the corrupted government, but do you believe they are interested in doing research.

If you want to do research, maybe the first exercise is to "search'' for a scholarship/funding for your study. Most PhD programs, in particular in STEM, are funded. Even if you plan to self-fund your Master study, you don't need to be from a wealthy family.

I have a friend who self-funded her Master study in France by working as babysitter during the school year, and working in the farm during the summer. I have a friend who self-funded his Master in Switzerland by washing dishes in a restaurant (the tuition fee in Switzerland is around a couple of hundreds bucks per year). I had a friend in Germany, who bought food for dog from the supermarket to eat during his Master (I heard that it tasted good). All of them are now rich and successful.

  • 3
    "Most of them are from China, India, eastern EU, third-world countries, who wants to have a better life via education" What part of the world are you referring to here? I don't doubt there are places where this is true, but as it stands, your statement is unclear. Also, I would point out the OP is asking about the US, where tuition isn't $100s. – Azor Ahai Aug 2 '18 at 0:03
  • 2
    @AzorAhai In the US, undergraduate and Master are expensive, but PhD programs are mostly (if not all) funded. And they don't require a Master to do a PhD. I did my postdoc in a university in Silicon Valley, haft of PhD students were Chinese, the rest were Indian. None of them were from wealthy family. – qsp Aug 2 '18 at 0:10
  • 6
    People living in third world countries who are actually living in third world conditions have very little chance of crossing the planet for grad school or a postdoc. A few get lucky somehow, but overall I'd say the west disproportionately gets the children of the wealthier classes from those countries. – A Simple Algorithm Aug 2 '18 at 11:53
  • 3
    I completely disagree with this answer. There are huge social origin factors shaping the access to university, especially in the US. Giving a few example does not, by any means, make a valid argument. You directly blame the OP when the socio-economical situation has a dramatical impact on the possibility to complete a master's degree or a PhD. Nature even published articles about that (here and here). Do not blame people when you have no idea about the situation. OP may need advices more than being bashed. – Lalylulelo Aug 3 '18 at 12:21
  • 4
    -1 For claiming that people are to blame for "lack of hard work" for not being able enter grad school despite having performed well as undergraduates. There should be no financial barrier which requires "hard work", or any work - if you meet the academic requirements. It is indeed "the situation" that is at fault. – einpoklum Aug 4 '18 at 17:41
4

Small personal survey in my department and environment (European perspective, approximately 20 PhD students):

About 10% of the PhD students have a university contract and are paid from granted research funds or general university funds. These contracts are low paid and have little social security.

About 40% of the PhD students are (partly) funded by an employer (mid-career researchers).

The remaining 50% are self-funded. In this category we have many young foreign students and few retired former industry students.

Doing a PhD generally doesn’t pay the bills. Poverty among self-funded students is not uncommon. Even wealthy parents can’t pay these bills. The university contracts give some temporary financial security but it is not enough to finance a standard family situation (you will need a second income).

For all categories dropout ratios are high (I estimate 30% to 50%). Each student, full time or part time, has to pass the first year go/no go meeting by showing sufficient progress and capabilities. A second reason for quitting is that former expectations for doing a PhD are not met (there is a tendency to romanticize a PhD trajectory). A third reason are personal circumstances (illness, divorce, new job).

If you ask my perspective, your position in industry is an excellent position to obtain your PhD as your employer might be willing to support you financially or with time.

3

MDs and JDs are generally loan funded.

A PhD has no reasonable hope to repay 300K American dollars over the course of their career, generally. A full-time PhD program is generally funded as part of the respective program, including part time employment and full time studentship, wrapped into one all encompassing program.

Those programs also include significant funds for travel, expenses related to relocation etc, and also utterly ridiculous academic concessions to attract and retain people (for example, adding a 'well qualified' spouse to the university faculty as part of someone's contract).

It was my personal experience that my phd supervisor assumed I had a secure social, familial and financial 'safety net' to prevent any life-destroying eventuality.

  • But AFAIK there are few, if any, PhD programs that cost $300K. Unless you're looking at an expensive private university (in which case you're paying for perceived status and/or contacts, not education), 20% of that would be much more reasonable. – jamesqf Aug 3 '18 at 4:21
  • @jamesqf I have expensive tastes. – user96140 Aug 3 '18 at 11:56
  • That seems like a personal problem :-) – jamesqf Aug 3 '18 at 16:26
3

In the tech field, a benefit some companies offer is to pay a portion of your education in related subjects. This is typically called "Tuition Assistance" which has a yearly cap and some conditions like grades for courses.

  • I think company support for doctoral study is fading from view. It used to be quite common for large companies like IBM to heavily support their employees. Not so much anymore. But it is highly dependent on the economy of the moment, I think. – Buffy Aug 1 '18 at 20:38
  • i think this is most common (today) in government positions in the form of tuition reimbursement (particularly within federal appointments). – user96140 Aug 1 '18 at 20:42
  • 1
    The military also offers TA which can cover a Ph.D (though you'd have to stay in the military for a number of years, think mid40-50s to finish). This is how I finished all but a semester of my Bachelor's (which allowed me to finish my Masters with the GI Bill) and I have a few friends I know who completed their Masters this way so it does happen. – JGreenwell Aug 3 '18 at 13:29
3

how can I afford these programs, especially given the fact that people working in/during Academia generally don't make as much as those in Industry?

Sorry life is not fair. While you aren't able to afford the study costs, many other people could. Students from rich families would have no problem doing a MBA/PhD/graduate programs.

Is it simply a matter of having a wealthy family/connection or saving up? Am I missing something here?

Not totally necessarily, but having a wealthy family wouldn't hurt.

No arrangement (scholarship, tuition fees etc) can cover up your salary from the industry. You just need to have money.

  • Sad but true. Education in some country is only related to your wealth. – ThePassenger Aug 2 '18 at 10:04
3

I know I'm late to the game, but I just wanted to throw in my 2 cents for future prospective grad students scrolling through these forums:

I am one of the people OP describes who have an incredible opportunity to study abroad for a few years (Canadian-born student; will be completing a PhD in Europe). I come from a lower-middle class family (parents are both first-generation immigrants and worked minimum wage jobs for most of my life; now retired). I paid for my entire education myself, from undergrad through to the end of the PhD. I currently have no debt and hope not to have any by the time I finish (fingers crossed; this may not be possible though). It took me 6 years to finish my undergrad. I worked 20+ hours/week during the school year, and 60+ hours/week during the summers (usually a full-time NSERC USRA + another minimum wage job... although I tried to get more "academic" jobs as time went on and opportunities presented themselves, e.g. as an RA or university tutor). I always took a full-course load, and while some semesters this was doable, others I felt like the sleep deprivation and burnout would kill me. When I wasn't working, I was applying for scholarships or doing bits of volunteering on the side (to put on my CV so I'd have a better chance of getting the scholarships I was applying for). I also compromised and did my BSc and MSc in a cheap university/town... less well-known, but it got me the degrees. (I also took 2 years to work full-time and save whatever I could to make ends meet... I did this through my university's Co-operative education office so that it didn't look like I had a gap in my education, and could work jobs that looked good on a resume.)

When I started my MSc, I applied for grants like crazy and, after several rejections, landed funding through Alberta Innovates ($26 000 CAD for my second year... however, my first year I didn't get anything, so that was tough. There were times I thought I'd have to drop out of school). I also kept applying for every smaller scholarship, research bursary, and grant I could find. I think throughout my MSc, I made around $60 000 and got by financially.

About 14 months prior to the end of my MSc, I started contacting potential PhD supervisors in Scotland and Ireland, as I always wanted to live there & thought science would be a good way to do that. I spent ~7 months applying/interviewing for funding opportunities. They are few and far-between for international students, so I had a back-up plan in case nothing worked out (I'd also applied to law school & was interviewing to teach English abroad). Surprisingly, I ended up with full-funding from each of two international universities (the University of Edinburgh and Trinity College Dublin). One of these had a programme that would involve significant travel as a student... if this is what you want, all you have to do is find supervisors who value this & make an effort to include it as part of their research programme.

So, there you go. It's a ridiculous, occasionally-awful, long-winded process, but it is possible to afford to do something like this without being independently wealthy (although I believe it will often be much harder & take longer that it would have if you had more money). And of course, if you have parents in academia or are independently wealthy, I'm sure you could go further in your career than I did with a fraction of the work... but on the other hand, I think the resilience, flexibility, & drive that I've built up over the past several years makes me feel like I can do just about anything (if I plan appropriately and give it my all). Who knows - maybe this'll give me an advantage someday :)

  • Thank you for your input! – Programmer Apr 25 at 22:49
2

By making financial considerations a significant part of my decision-making process.

I'm not from a wealthy or very connected family but two main elements.

1: I was lucky enough to be born in a country where my undergrad was mostly covered by state funding. I chose where to study and what partly based on being able to save money by remaining a manageable distance from home. I could have gone to a bigger-name institution but it would have meant a major financial hit.

2: I picked my postgrad partly because there was an EU program that made it close to free because they projected that there would be significant demand for the skillset in a few years time. Again location picked to remain a manageable distance from home which kept direct costs down.

Both were also picked for being fairly safe, reliable courses with clear paths to stable employment.

Combined with working part time during the year and a summer job and tutoring jobs I was able to avoid racking up any debt.

Had I chosen instead to move halfway across the country to study an expensive non-subsidized course while living in rental accommodation... that wouldn't have turned out the same.

Now, working in a university, I'm making arrangements to do a part time PhD while remaining on my current salary.

Some things are about a little luck but much is about maneuvering into positions where things can be done for a low cost.

2

Just to offer a perspective I don't see here, the situation varies by field. I'm a computer science PhD student, and I started my PhD after working for a year after undergrad. I did not have a master's, and my stipend as a PhD student is about 30k/yr, which is around normal. My TA requirement was light: I had to TA two courses, and that was it. Now I just do research.

30k goes pretty far as a single person, so the money is not a lifestyle constraint for me. Also, in computer science specifically it's fairly common to do industry internships (e.g. work at Google/Amazon/Microsoft etc for the summer, hopefully doing something related to your research), and these can add another 15-25k onto your annual salary.

In general the financial ease of a PhD in area X is directly correlated to the "employability" of an undergrad degree in area X. It's easier to find jobs as a computer science major than a humanities major, so PhD programs in computer science have to "compete" harder for PhD students and therefore pay and treat them better, albeit not close to the compensation in industry. It is very rare for computer science students to pay anything for their PhD, and typically it's not advised.

The opportunity cost of a PhD in computer science is high in terms of monetary compensation. Most people at good programs could easily triple their salary in industry -- multiply this over 5-6 years and there's a several hundred thousand dollar difference. So there is some selection against people who really need to make money (e.g. if their family requires it), but probably less than in other disciplines with more dire funding constraints.

1

My previous employer would reimburse a significant amount towards education each year. They were able to write off about $6,000/year per person on taxes, so they passed that on to employees. Very few took the company up on that benefit. In the office that I worked in, about 5% of the employees eligible took any education benefit.

1

This has to be anecdotal, because I don't know how everyone does it, and there are a lot of different possible paths.

For myself, I did most of the master's coursework over several years, while working full-time. (At an employer who originally hired me as an undergrad intern.) Then when that job ended, I had a good bit of money saved. The habits of frugality I'd learned in earlier life meant that between this and a paid RA position (which was doing my thesis research) I could live quite comfortably by my standards. (Which I admit aren't everyone's.)

Then after getting the MS, I worked in industry again and accumulated enough to become independently poor. So I could do the PhD more or less for entertainment. Add in another RA position, and a couple of very well paid research internships with major companies, and I did quite well.

So that's a possible answer: take breaks for well-paid industry work, live relatively frugally, and find paid RA/TA or internship positions.

1

Lots of different ways to do it, here's a few...

Not a lavish education, but my BAS in software dev is costing me about $30 per credit hour due to employee benefits working at the college I'm attending. Have an agreement for tuition trading with the large state research university in the same town, so I could in theory go all the way to PhD only having to pay books and non-tuition fees (student life stuff, etc). My daughter's schooling (starting her AA in 3 weeks) will cost me the same ... as will my other 2 kids, and if my wife wanted to, she would get free classes as well.

Additionally, some employers in industry do tuition reimbursement, usually related to continuing employment for X years after graduation. The large hospital chain I worked at in the 90s did this, reimbursed 70-90% of tuition based on grades. So, may be worth checking your HR department, or looking for a job at an institution you'd like to attend.

Depending on your mindset, you could always join the military and use GI benefits to pay for schooling, both while serving and after you get out. With your BS, you'd qualify for OCS possibly, especially if you did reserves and ROTC while doing your masters - one of the people that taught me Turbo Pascal back in the 80s was doing this - Marine reserves and ROTC, graduated and was commissioned as a captain.

Of course, if you aren't too far in debt already you can always do the math and figure out how much more money you'd make with a masters and if it is financially worth it to just take loans and do it. At least working part time with a BS in Comp Sci you'd make good money vs. minimum wage....

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.