I haven't gotten any offers yet, but I just got an e-mail from one of the biggest names in my field (engineering) who urged me strongly to apply to his school. This, along with a few other factors, makes me feel it's likely I will get admitted to one of the top schools if I choose to apply. This is humbling, exhilarating, amazing, etc, but the caveat is that I have a family to support.

We have barely scraped by for too long now and it would be really nice to give my spouse some measure of financial comfort. So, counting everything including stipends, scholarships, allowances and every other trick in the book, what would be the most one could hope to get from a place like MIT, Stanford or Princeton?

I think most people here understand how valuable a PhD in engineering from MIT is in terms of future prospects in both academia and industry. Would it be crazy to consider supplementing ones income with a loan in order to live decently, if not doing so would mean being forced to decline the offer altogether?

  • This is probably going to be closed for having no set answer, but you should know that in many fields you can make a bunch of money doing internships over the summer.
    – Ric
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 22:20
  • I think a related, but better question, is how can you find out what the maximum stipend a school offers is.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 22:37
  • Funding agencies have caps on what graduate students can be paid. It used to be ~$30,000/year. Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 23:06
  • @AnonymousPhysicist, some agencies have that limit, but I don't think it's universal. Also, on top of the pay or stipend, usually the school will waive or the funding agency will pay the tuition and fees.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 23:11

1 Answer 1


I can't answer your question directly (probably no one can), but I have some first and second-hand knowledge. This applies to CS/engineering in the US:

  • I've had several friends that went to Cornell, Princeton, and Stanford and they have told me that they make around $28,000-$34,000 for a 12 month salary. However, the cost of living in places like Stanford is very expensive, so you need to adjust for that (there are calculators online).
  • You can do an internship at a company or lab and make around $30,000 in a single summer.
  • Most funding agencies and departments won't allow you to double dip. So receiving external funding (e.g., a fellowship) would replace, not supplement, your assistantship with your department.

In ideal circumstances, this means that you could make 25k (9 month salary) while at university and another 30k during the summer, for a grand total of $55,000 before taxes.

Of course, you have to be careful because internships aren't guaranteed and you may have to relocate to another city/state for them (often paid for by the company) which might pose another challenge for your family.

  • 1
    International students have restrictions on the type of work they can perform.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 0:07
  • 1
    @StrongBad It is very common for international students to do these internships (I'm currently sitting by several at my internship at Microsoft Research). Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 0:09
  • Note that, all other things being equal, a student who does internships in the summers will probably take longer to finish their degree than one who spends the summer on their dissertation research. Maybe this makes less difference in fields where internships are very common, but it's worth considering: you might find that in the long run, you would make more money by spending summers concentrating on your PhD research, and thus finishing and moving to lucrative full-time work sooner. Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 19:54
  • 1
    @NateEldredge In my experience, the work done at the internships is their dissertation work. If anything, it accelerates it because it gives them resources that you might not have at university (e.g., professional developers, users, customers, large codebases, real-world products, etc.) which is way easier to publish on than contrived experiments or student participants. In fact, only one of my papers was done without an internship! Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 19:58

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