Last semester I chose 12 credits, but the department said it can only pay for 9 credits, i.e. I have to pay for the extra 3 credits by myself.

No one ever told me about such rules before. I thought the tuition fees for phd students are just a fiction/imaginary/symbolic number. Is there anyone who have heard things like this?

I think it is ridiculous to ask a phd student to pay. Because phd is kind of a job, I have heard employees getting very low salary, but never heard of an employee PAYING her company.

  • 1
    Well, yes. It does depend on the institution, but it seems normal to me.
    – Ébe Isaac
    Aug 16, 2016 at 16:52
  • 15
    "No one ever told me about such rules before." Try read the student handbook or procedure guide. Don't rely on people telling you about these things cause they don't necessarily know why you want to speed up the study pace. A chat with the financial office will also help. Aug 16, 2016 at 16:54
  • @Penguin_Knight ...So you read all of them? Without leaving out anything? You sure? Aug 16, 2016 at 17:11
  • 17
    "So you read all of them? Without leaving out anything? You sure? " No, I did skip the section on maternity leave because I didn't need it. Aug 16, 2016 at 17:25
  • 3
    I'm confused. In your other question, posted around the same time as this one, you're a masters student. In this one, you're a PhD student. What's going on?
    – ff524
    Aug 17, 2016 at 6:35

5 Answers 5


Yes, this doesn't sound too unusual. It's certainly pretty common to have restrictions on the number of courses that grad students can take. Some schools might make you pay for any extras, and at others they might not let you do it at all.

This may be a result of the university's internal budgeting: tuition is charged by the credit, and the student's tuition waiver is limited to a certain dollar amount. This helps the institution keep some control over the "cost" of supporting a graduate student. The tuition fees may be fictitious to the student (up to a point), but I assure you that to the departments within the university whose budgets are affected, those dollar amounts are very real.

I'd also interpret this as a warning that you are taking more classes than the standard load, which may not be a good idea. It's very common for PhD students to take on more work than they end up being able to handle, and the results are often not pretty; sometimes this sort of thing starts a spiral that ends with the student dropping out of the program. So I'd suggest caution before trying to push through the restriction: it might be a blessing in disguise.

Note that PhD students generally exist in sort of a gray area between "student" and "employee", and so your analogy of an employee paying her company is not really apt. Some academic cultures put them closer to one side than the other, but as you're finding, it's often necessary to balance aspects of both.

  • Nice comment, thanks. I am international student, we are required to take 9 credits to maintain visa status. I took the filler course which was 9 credits . That course is just a filler, no class or hw at all. I chose another 3-credits course. Thats why i got 12. Aug 18, 2016 at 14:55

The primary focus of doing a PhD is research. Typically (at least in the US, in the engineering departments I am familiar with), any tuition/fees for courses you take in support of your research or to fulfill degree requirements that are paid for by the university are capped at a certain number of credit hours.

If a student wishes to sink more of their time into coursework (beyond that which is paid for by the institution) than on their research, then, yes, it is the student's responsibility to pay for it.

  • Hmm, i am a international student, so I am required to get 9 credits each semester to maintain my visa status. (American students don't need to worry about this though.) We have a 'dummy' course that gives us credits without doing any coursework Aug 16, 2016 at 17:12
  • 5
    We have a 'dummy' course ... — Yes, and, if you really have other courses that you want to take rather than the "dummy" one, then (in my experience, anyway), you typically don't enroll in the "dummy" one, which helps to keep the total number of enrolled hours to a minimum.
    – Mad Jack
    Aug 16, 2016 at 17:17

In the US, yes, almost all programs require tuition and other fees.

In some cases, the student doesn't pay these out of pocket. Instead, the department may pay for them, or they may come out of grant money, and from the student's perspective these will be "waived". However, from the school accountant's perspective they are indeed real fees charged to real entities and paid with real money.

This is considered part of the student's financial support package. Not every school, and not every program, offers the same financial support, so many PhD students do indeed pay fees, sometimes very substantial ones. It may even be that the student receives a salary, and then has to pay tuition out of this salary (although given how silly this is, it tends to be rare).

PhD is kind of a job

In the US, no. It is a studentship, where the student pays the school to train him, not the other way around. The income (or at least lack of expenses) happens by way of financial aid from the institution.

In my humble opinion, this is a very unrealistic mindset, and no serious program would expect students to work for free (or worse, pay to work). However, clearly the establishment is not of this opinion: In many fields, it is in fact considered normal for PhD students to work without pay, and sometimes even being forced to take on loans or side jobs to afford tuition. I suppose they must be getting enough applicants anyways... The point is, in the US, there is no rule saying you won't have to pay fees - this happens to be an excellent thing to discuss during interviews or other stages of the application.

  • The difference between fields usually comes from a difference in demand for those fields (and, thus, a difference in grant funding for them.) The professors at the university don't work for free, either! Someone has to pay them for their time teaching and advising the student, just as the money to support the student has to come from somewhere. Not every field has sufficient demand for Ph.D.s to fund grants for all of the people who would like to get one.
    – reirab
    Aug 17, 2016 at 4:23

First, this sort of thing is normal. For certain institutions, the minimum credit courses are covered within the stipend/scholarship/fellowship provided by the institution. Extra courses or certain special courses would require extra payment.

No one ever told me about such rules before.

It is your duty to read the PhD regulations and guidelines followed in your institution. You shouldn't be waiting to be told these things.

PhD is kind of a job

Well, not really. It is thought to be somewhere between a job and a course. But, some get paid and some don't. This is really a misconception.

  • "It is your duty to read the PhD regulations and guidelines followed in your institution" I cant find it on our website. I actually had carefully read the phd requirements. I just can't see anything relevant to such issues. Aug 16, 2016 at 17:18
  • 2
    @SentToJailBecauseImTooHandsome: ask your advisor, if not, the finance sector.
    – Ébe Isaac
    Aug 16, 2016 at 17:28

In a very short answer. Yes it's normal. From my personal experience, two of my friends are given 70% tuition fee waved off and rest they have to pay.

PhD is like a job, not exactly a job. So also expect that once the funding is finished you won't get paid for stipend also.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .