I am a rising 2nd year PhD student in a US public school.

I was promised 4 years of funding by my department. Last year, I received a fellowship which covered tuition and stipend. I believe most people get 2 years of funding, so I was expecting it to be renewed. Over the summer, I kept asking about the status of my renewal application and only until yesterday (1 week before next school year) did they inform me my renewal was rejected. The secretary who communicates with me still has not told me why.

The next school year starts in <1 week, and all my classes will be dropped tomorrow if my tuition is not paid. To make matters worse, I am an international student, and if in ~3 weeks my tuition still isn't paid, then my visa will be invalidated and I fear I may be deported.

I will talk to my advisor tomorrow, but much advice is appreciated. In particular, I wish to know whether there is any standard procedure for this kind of situation and whether I should pay my own tuition first in case of any visa problem.

closed as off-topic by Morgan Rodgers, Jon Custer, Brian Tompsett - 汤莱恩, Brian Borchers, user3209815 Sep 24 at 7:28

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    I presume you were promised 4 years of funding in your admission letter. That letter constitutes a contract. If the university refuses to honor the contract, seek lawyer's help. – Boris Bukh Sep 20 at 13:00
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    @BorisBukh Obviously I am not in a position to know, but I would be surprised if the wording of the initial admission letter was unconditional. I can't imagine a graduate program committing themselves for 4 years to a student who might not pan out, especially if the anticipated funding was contingent on external grants. When I went to grad school, I remember being told that students can "normally" expect 4 years of funding, but nothing that would have made it certain. – John Coleman Sep 20 at 15:54
  • @JohnColeman I agree that it depends on the wording; however, even an unfavorable wording might turn out to be unenforceable. Because of how much is at stake for the student is why I suggested to seek help of a professional. – Boris Bukh Sep 20 at 18:33
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    @BorisBukh I agree that seeking a lawyer's help is unlikely to hurt, if it comes to that. Short of that, there might be a graduate student ombudsperson who could help. – John Coleman Sep 20 at 18:53
  • @JohnColeman Mine was, at least for the first 12 months – Azor Ahai Sep 21 at 18:12

I wish to know whether there is any standard procedure for this kind of situation

You already have the right answer. Talk to your advisor.

PhD students should never pay tuition.

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    Actually, if you don't have any funding, they you may well need to pay tuition. Some places only forgive part of the tuition even for TAs. So, while I agree with" should never pay tuition", it doesn't always work that way. – Buffy Sep 20 at 9:16
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    Indeed, that's an incredibly STEM answer, @Anonymous Physicist, and you'd probably do well to find out a bit more about the funding situations of other disciplines before you make statements like that. While, indeed, the operative word there is "should", in many other disciplines the ideal simply is not the reality. – GrotesqueSI Sep 20 at 9:57
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    @GrotesqueSI I'm well aware that some PhD students get no support and must pay tuition. And I know that's more common in the humanities. And I strongly stand by what I said; don't pay tuition, even if it means not being a PhD student. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 20 at 10:10
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    Unless you are telling the OP to not pay the tuition and drop out instead, it's not a helpful part of the answer. – chepner Sep 20 at 15:31
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    @GrotesqueSI Yes, I stand by what I said. You have survivorship bias. In fact, encouraging someone to complete a PhD without full funding is unethical, unless they are super rich. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 21 at 0:45

I was promised 4 years of funding by my department. Last year, I received a fellowship...my renewal was rejected.

There are different types of funding -- teaching assistant, research assistant, and fellowship. If your fellowship application was rejected, then you should be awarded a TA or RA.

That said, you could still have problems. In particular, if you didn't apply for a TA or RA because you expected your fellowship to be renewed. Or if your funding was lost due to your actions (e.g., academic misconduct, poor performance, etc.).

I will talk to my advisor tomorrow

Yes, absolutely this, talk to your advisor. Consider also talking to the graduate director or even international students' office -- and don't wait around for a response to e-mail, be proactive.

I wish to know whether...I should pay my own tuition first in case of any visa problem.

If you pay your tuition with your own money, I would not expect to ever get that money back. On the other hand, if your visa expires, the university's ability to help you will be very limited.

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    "If you pay your tuition with your own money, I would not expect to ever get that money back." I don't agree with this. I have known departments that are untimely with getting appointments arranged, in which it wasn't uncommon for the paperwork to come after the deadline for tuition payment. However if an appointment includes remission of tuition as a benefit, it should be incompatible with the university's payroll procedures not to refund tuition already paid. This is from an American perspective, in case that's relevant. – Kevin Carlson Sep 21 at 18:48
  • If the university promised funding and the student held up their end, then I agree the university should return any money fronted. That is, however, two ifs and a should -- so, I would never advise a student to front money they can't afford on the assumption that they'll get it back. At least not without doing a ton of due diligence, which does not appear to have (yet) been done here. – cag51 Sep 21 at 19:13
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    Sure, the original phrasing seemed more to imply that there's no chance of getting a refund, as opposed to "make sure you know you'll get the money back before you forward potentially thousands of dollars [or local equivalent] from your bank account", which is pretty hard advice to argue with. – Kevin Carlson Sep 21 at 19:17
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    Talking to the advisor is always a good idea, but they are not likely to be the person who can actually solve this or give you an answer, though they may direct you to the person who can. But to save time, I would also talk to the faculty member in charge of the graduate program ("graduate vice chair" or some similar title), who is most likely the person who actually will decide what kind of funding you will get instead. And don't wait around for a response to an email - go talk to them in person. – Nate Eldredge Sep 22 at 0:53
  • It may also be a good idea to talk to the university's international student office, who can give specific advice about visa issues. I wouldn't expect either the advisor or the graduate vice chair to be able to address that. – Nate Eldredge Sep 22 at 0:59

Well, this really sucks. I’m sorry to hear this happened.

I was promised 4 years of funding by my department

In writing? Do you have an official letter from the university saying this or is it something more like “yeah most students get by you’ll be fine”

If you have any formal agreement/offer from your university for full funding then it’s not your problem how they fulfill it. If your stipend depends on teaching duties or something then you may need to do this now. To be honest, unless someone really screwed up it’s unlikely that your scholarship would lapse when the department committed to keeping you, so I suspect the promise you were given is less official than you might think.

If you are indeed a good “rising” student then your department/advisor will make significant efforts to keep you. If not, this may be their way of letting you go.

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