Something that is not clear by any kind of research is this:

Is associateship (which waives tuition and fees) stipend enough (annually 20k) for a student and his wife to take care of all their necessities and carry on during the whole Ph.D. period, without any other financial support?

I'm just asking in general and I know costs may vary a lot between different places. But since being a bit more specific is better, let's talk about the cities with medium cost of living according to Cost of Living Index 2018. For example, Columbus or Minneapolis is around 60 vs. New York that is 100.

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  • 2
    Have you asked current students at the university in question about this? – Thomas Nov 16 at 19:53
  • 2
    I'm not sure that "is $X enough to live in city Y" is really an academia question. – Nate Eldredge Nov 16 at 21:00
  • I don't think so: usually, no. – xuq01 Nov 16 at 22:40
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I am hoping to start a grad program in one of those medium cost-of-living cities, and have been doing lots of research. Since it sounds like I'm more familiar with the US than you, I'll give you what I've learned.

This will of course depend on your standard of living. I assume because you are married, you would like to live in your own apartment/house and not live in one bedroom in a four-bedroom house. This answer is based on that.

As another caveat, I would say I'm moving from a very expensive area, so it's possible I'm overestimating other expenses based on my experience here.

At more than $30k (the value of some awards), I feel like I could minimally support myself and my wife (who is also going back to school). We also have a nice chunk of savings that we've been accruing for two years that helps me feel better about living on the stipend.

At less than that, around $25k, we would plan on my wife working 8-12 hours a week to supplement my income.

Those numbers are totally unlivable in high cost-of-living areas, like where I live now. I couldn't imagine trying to live here on less than $50k combined; and that's a totally unachievable PhD stipend.

Tl;dr:

  • < $20k - Not a chance, would expect my partner to work at least part time

  • $20-25k - Doable, with decent savings and a few hours of work on your partner's side.

  • $25-32k - Much more doable, but still tight living

  • >$35k - As comfortable as you can be on a PhD stipend.

  • Cost of living is vastly different in some areas than others. Vastly. Did I mention vastly? I think that my daughter's stipend in the Twin Cities was around $30,000 and this was several years ago and in philosophy. It isn't an especially expensive city. – Buffy Nov 16 at 17:38
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    An international student's dependent has no permission for work in the United States. – Afshin Salehi Nov 16 at 18:02
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    @AfshinSalehi Look into getting a J-1 visa instead of a F-1 student visa. If you're on J1, your dependent is eligible to apply for work authorization. – Anyon Nov 16 at 18:06
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    AFAIK graduate stipends are generally not federally tax-free. For fellowships, the government will not withhold taxes, but I believe you are still expected to pay the taxes yourself. I'd suggest checking this really carefully. – Nate Eldredge Nov 16 at 21:02
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    @AfshinSalehi Are you sure about not being able to opt for a J-1 over F-1? I'm a US citizen so I have very limited exposure to our visa system, but I think it's quite possible you may be eligible for a J-1. If your partner would prefer to work it is worth looking in to further. – Bryan Krause Nov 16 at 21:37

If you're not in one of the big metro areas of Bay Area, Seattle, NY/NJ, SoCal-LA, DC etc. and you don't have children during this period, you should be able to survive. You'll have to watch every expense, esp. try to save on housing by living in a small apt. and not the most desirable area. This is assuming health insurance is fully covered for both of you. Housing and health insurance can be the biggest chunks of expense.

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