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My husband received an acceptance letter in February to get his Ph.D. in History. We are in the US. When he e-mailed to the funding department asking what else he needed, the funding department said they had everything.

Now in April he e-mailed to the Department where he supposedly is going to do his Ph.D. to ask about registration, start day, etc., and the president of the department answered saying he is not hopeful about securing his fellowship line at the moment, and the funding they have now will cover the currently enrolled students and if he has something left, he will not know until august. But classes start in August and we have to move 700 miles away!

Is there something we can do after my husband has been accepted but with no funding?

  • Did the offer letter he received mention a funding guarantee at all? – Roger Fan Apr 29 '15 at 18:01
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    Not, it doesn't say anything about guarantee. We thought when you were accepted it was because they had the funding for you. :/ – ANA G Apr 29 '15 at 18:11
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    @ANA: That's unfortunately not the case. Speaking from personal experience in a different field (but same country) only, in their acceptance letters most programs in that field offered funding, only 1 did not at all (maybe just to me), and 2 had a nasty "we'll fund the top/top 2 students after year one" policy. It's important to look for this early on, and factor funding into your decision which offer to accept. Similarly, look if you are offered a fellowship or an opportunity to work as an RA/TA (those opportunities are often not guaranteed either). – gnometorule Apr 29 '15 at 18:18
  • He still waiting for 3 more schools to answer, but he wanted to get into that one, it was a perfect match for him. – ANA G Apr 29 '15 at 18:26
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    @ANA Unfortunately, if there isn't an explicit funding guarantee in the letter then they are under no obligation to fund you. The department head is probably being honest, there is a slim chance that there will be leftover funding but it's doubtful. If you want to attend, you will have to plan to pay your own tuition and living costs out-of-pocket. – Roger Fan Apr 29 '15 at 19:03
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If they did not say they had funding at the time of the offer, then it is quite likely they do not have funding now. This is especially true in the humanities. Cases where the offer include a statement about funding generally mean the department has funding, but it is not unheard of for things to happen. Generally statements about funding include lots of conditional clauses protecting the department in case things fall through. In the humanities funding for a PhD is much harder to get. It is worth asking about the possibility of teaching.

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You note that this involves a humanities department at an American university, so my answer is that this kind of bare-bones offer is unfortunately all too common -- especially at state universities.

At these places, your letter of admission is just that -- admission into the graduate program. Your admission letter has to explicitly offer a financial package which might include:

  • a waiver for tuition and fees
  • a graduate stipend (independent of teaching, or tied to teaching)
  • offer of teaching or research fellowships (either guaranteed or ad hoc)
  • internal fellowships

If this isn't the case, you would be liable for not only your own living expenses, but for any tuition and fees that are charged. At some places, this might be quite a lot of money given that you might be treated as an out-of-state student and charged tuition and fees accordingly.

At this stage, it's difficult for any of us to recommend what to do. It seems you have several options:

  1. Accept the situation and prepare for the financial difficulty of doing graduate work while working at the same time or taking out loans.

  2. Withdrawing from the program (and perhaps reapplying to the same or other programs next year in the hope of a better offer).

  3. Waiting for the other offers and either accepting an offer with a better package or trying to leverage them against your original school for more money

  4. Writing to the graduate director or your prospective advisor and plead your case.

All of these carry very real risks, so proceed with caution.

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Just a clarification for some of the above answers, from an American faculty member in the humanities.

Funding in the humanities (like everywhere else in the academy) is a contractual matter. In my experience, all funding offers are processed by a graduate school or other university-level office, not the individual department. Letters are sent early in the admissions process, signed by a representative of the university. Once the student signs and returns the contract, it will not be withdrawn (assuming you are dealing with a respectable university).

Department admissions committees make decisions about who to offer funding to. It is frequently true that there is less funding available in humanities and social science departments than other graduate programs in many state universities. But we do not make funding offers without actually having the funding lines available. Obviously, that would be highly unethical because there is so much at stake for the student, as the OP notes.

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