I met a PhD student that is completely self-funded at our engineering college . Our university is notorious for being one of the most expensive schools to attend; I can't imagine someone funding his own graduate studies for five/six years, right after paying for an undergrad education.

He did land an important internship at a large hedge fund, though, so I'm guessing in the long run, if he lands in finance, it could be all worth it.

My question is: are self-funded PhDs in the STEM fields at U.S. universities pretty common?

  • 2
    There's a strong norm against it; "you should not be paying for your own PhD tuition, you should be earning a stipend" is stock advice for undergraduates in the USA contemplating graduate school. The situation might be different for people returning to academia after some time in industry, though.
    – zwol
    Aug 8, 2016 at 17:34

1 Answer 1


From the Survey of Earned Doctorates, a large-scale survey of students who earn doctoral degrees from U.S. institutions,

  • In the life sciences, 9% report "own resources" as primary source of support.
  • In the physical sciences, 3.8% report "own resources" as primary source of support.
  • In the social sciences, 25.3% report "own resources" as primary source of support.
  • In engineering, 3.8% report "own resources" as primary source of support.

See TABLE 35. Doctorate recipients' primary source of financial support, by broad field of study, sex, citizenship status, ethnicity, and race: 2014.

  • 4
    There may be some bias because self-funded students are unusual. For several years, I was both self-funded and the only over-50 female computer science graduate student on a campus. I did not complete surveys that asked for any confidential information unless they indicated a minimum group size for statistics. Aug 8, 2016 at 5:33
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    @PatriciaShanahan In the SED, data is not disclosed for subgroups of small size. These are listed as "D = suppressed to avoid disclosure of confidential information" in the table. A discussion of the specific data suppression policy is available in Protecting and Accessing Data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates (free to read online with no login required)
    – ff524
    Aug 8, 2016 at 5:46
  • That is what I like to see in a survey, so I would have answered that one. Aug 8, 2016 at 6:54

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