I was accepted into Ohio State University CS PhD without funding.

I have heard that people who can show their capability may get funding after getting into the program. Is this understanding correct?

Is being accepted without funding a dangerous sign? Does this means that the faculty doesn't care about you?

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    One possible implication is "hunger". Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 16:03
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    By "hunger" I mean: if you do not have any funding, you will not be able to buy food, and you will get hungry. More to the point: how will you support yourself? Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 16:15
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    Eat clay and drink wind? kd. I don't plan to go there. I will go to work instead. Just asking about the phenomenon, as well as ranting about how impolite OSU CS department is. I honestly believe that it is unethical to admit a phd student without funding. Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 16:42
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    @user1745048 The question of "is it ethical to admit a phd student without funding in a field where funding is standard" is another (interesting IMO) question entirely...
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 17:16
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    I cannot comment on the US, but in the UK, funding is scarce. So, not getting funding doesn't mean they do not like you, but it means that they have no money to fund you (which is a slight, but important difference). Nevertheless, I discourage to do a PhD without funding, for various reasons: in short, motivation of the supervisor, motivation of the student, motivation of the department. In the US, they may have more money, so not getting any of it may be a bad sign. But, in the UK, apart from above downsides, it does not necessarily mean much. Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 17:43

5 Answers 5


My answer applies exclusively to CS in the United States, or other scenarios in which the standard PhD offer comes with guaranteed funding.

Implication #1: How the department feels about you

First, I will quote from an answer by JeffE (who is a member of the admissions committee at a top CS department in the US) to another question (also about CS PhD offers in the US):

A typical PhD offer from a strong department includes guaranteed funding in some form.

That may come in the form of guaranteed RA/TA work, or something else, but whatever it is will be promised at acceptance. Therefore, the main implication of a PhD offer without funding is that (as you have intuited), the department does not consider you a top candidate for their program. As JeffE remarks in the same answer:

Do not accept a PhD admission offer without funding. If they really want you, they'll pay for you.

You asked: "I have heard that people who can show their capability may get funding after getting into the program. Is this understanding correct?"

It's not impossible to get funding after beginning the program (e.g., if you really hit it off with a potential PhD advisor who has grant money to spare). But this depends very much on luck and circumstance, not just on merit; so unless you like living dangerously, it's not an advisable strategy.

Implication #2: How it will affect your future prospects

Having said that, if you somehow manage to support yourself while doing a PhD, it probably won't matter to anyone that you were self-funded. Per Suresh's answer to another question:

There's nothing on your CV that needs to indicate exactly how you were supported during your Ph.D.

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    You know you've made it when your answer get cited in other answer. Academia h-index, anyone ?
    – Suresh
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 17:27
  • Seconded. If they want you, they'll pay. Most likely they'd be using your tuition dollars to fund stipends for the other students. The only way I could imagine you getting them to give you funding after a year would be to get into a better program with funding. I doubt that's going to happen, frankly or you wouldn't be considering this offer.
    – user10636
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 0:03
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    I was about to post this answer; looks like I already did! In case there's any doubt: Ohio State has a strong enough CS department that it can offer funding to the students it really wants.
    – JeffE
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 0:37
  • is this answer only true in US, or it can also work in Europe?
    – Ooker
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 8:38
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    @Ooker the first sentence of this answer says "My answer applies exclusively to CS in the United States, or other scenarios in which the standard PhD offer comes with guaranteed funding." (regardless of where, or what field)
    – ff524
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 8:40

It might be worth checking if you have been:

  1. Admitted and told that you will not get funding,


  1. Admitted with no funding decision made as of yet.

My university has a central admissions process for graduate students that is entirely decoupled from the process by which I make funding offers to my students. The university sends out an letter of admission that has language about "without funding," which has led to students expressing concerns similar to yours.

(This year, the faculty in my area are heading this off by sending informal "recommended for admission" letters to the admitted students, with a note that funding decisions are made at a later date and that they should interpret the University letter as being of the second type.)


I was part of Student Association in my university and I used to get this question many times from newly admitted students for CS PhD programs. I have told those students also that PhDs in CS without funding is not a common scenario in US universities. Usually projects come along with the funds and part of these funds get redirected to you in order to conduct the research. You may want to try out other options. I am sure you will find something better. All the best.


Is being accepted without funding a dangerous sign? Does this means that the faculty doesn't care about you?

Yes and Yes. I've never known a PhD student to be accepted without funding of some sort. Generally, the number of PhDs a department admits is also the number of students the department can cover with RAs/TAs. I have no insider information, but my guess would be the school had a dearth of qualified applicants to the CS Masters program, and gave you one of their slots.

Self funding a PhD puts you at a tremendous dis-advantage, as all the other students are funded to do their research, but you will have to find outside work, and do research "on the side."

Also, consider what incentive your advisor (if you are lucky enough to find one) has to work with you. The prof invested in other PhD students by funding them, he's got skin in the game (so to speak), and incentive to make them succeed. As an unfunded PhD, your priority will be near the bottom of any prof.

I would recommend following one of the two options below

1) Don't accept the unfunded PhD slot and re-apply. Since you were accepted, you may be able to ask why you weren't funded. They may provide suggestions to help you re-apply.

2) Switch to the masters program. Masters students aren't usually funded, so you will be competing with others like you. You will work with the same profs, and will still have a chance to impress them. One of them may fund you.

I've know several Masters student who were employed by a prof after proving themselves in class. Generally, the prof fast-tracked them to the PhD program.


It means you may want to look around for jobs on campus, like TA positions to pay for living expenses and tuition. Not having funding upon acceptance is not a mark against you, it just means exactly that. In biology funding is more common because the scientist will need to pay for materials and reagents. I'm assuming there aren't many inherent costs in CS research aside from a computer.

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    I don't think this answer applies to CS PhDs in the US, which are usually funded (e.g., the student is promised a stipend, subject to some RA/TA work which is guaranteed.)
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 16:26
  • As @ff524 said, most of the cs phd application results I saw online are funded. And some applicants of OSU said they received email of guaranteed TA/RAship. Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 16:42
  • I think it would depends on the institution as well as the department. Some departments will find by e requiring the student to TA, and this goes towards tuition. It may also be that student funding is dependent on the supervisor's funding.
    – user479
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 16:54

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