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I am applying for multiple economics PhD programs in the US (Harvard, Princeton, etc), and for MPhil (research master) programs in the UK (Oxford, Cambridge, LSE). for the academic year starting Sep-2017

I want to apply for scholarships as much as possible, but I'm slightly confused by how this works. I've read some stuff online, but I'd want to do a sanity check here at Stack Exchange to make sure I've got it right.

  • First of all, is it normal for US Graduate Schools to pay the complete tuition fee for PhD students? The Harvard website says: "Economic students receive full tuition and stipend support while they are enrolled and making satisfactory progress toward the Ph.D. degree." I almost can't believe this, since the US has a reputation here in Europe to have very high tuition fees. Do I understand correctly from this statement that Harvard Economics PhD students don't have to pay any kind of fee to the university for the full 5 years, or am I missing something?

  • If the above is true, does it even make sense (and is it acceptable/normal) to still apply for extra-university-scholarships for those universities?

  • Third question: Since I'm applying to roughly 10 universities (in 3 countries), I don't know yet where I will be studying. Is it advisable (and acceptable/normal) to already apply for as many scholarships as possible, even though I don't even know yet where I'll be studying?

  • Is it true that the optimal strategy for obtaining a scholarship is to go through websites like scholarships.com, internationalscholarships.com, and apply for all scholarships for which you are eligible? Or would I be missing something?

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since the US has a reputation here in Europe to have very high tuition fees. Do I understand correctly from this statement that Harvard Economics PhD students don't have to pay any kind of fee to the university for the full 5 years, or am I missing something?

I am a graduate student of economics in continental Europe, so I do not have a first-hand experience about the US or the UK. However, my general impression about the field is that those very high tuition fees are more relevant in undergraduate degrees and professional non-PhD degrees (such as MBA, terminal applied MSc, etc.) and not much about the PhD path.

I do not know for sure about the Harvard PhD funding policy, but your interpretation is certainly plausible. The general expectation among the PhD students is to receive some funding, and actually having to pay tuition to the school (in addition to not getting any living subsidies) seems unusual (and inadvisable).

The passage below from the econphd.net guide supports my impression that actually paying tuition should be more of the exception than the norm for PhD students.

Economics departments give considerably lower fellowships than business schools or science departments. Worse yet, some people will be admitted without fellowships and a few end up paying tuition. But it is commonly understood (although the department may not be willing to explicitly guarantee it) that all students who stay on beyond the first one or two years are funded in some manner. Often teaching assistantships are part of it, but many programs also reward academic success with scholarship money.

Generally, the best and most competitive programs offer the most generous funding – MIT, Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale admits can expect to get a package of, perhaps, between $ 16,000 and $ 20,000 per year (with tuition waiver).

That said, I believe there are also externally funded PhD students (who receive funding from governments, other research institutes, grants, etc.) Having your own funding may help in the admission, but I do not know the process or how normal it is.

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is it normal for US Graduate Schools to pay the complete tuition fee for PhD students?

Yes. Most PhD students in the US are funded by a combination TA (i.e., in exchange for teaching responsibilities) and RA (i.e., out of Professors' research budgets). This will cover tuition, health insurance, and a stipend for living expenses.

the US has a reputation here in Europe to have very high tuition fees.

It's true, but most students do not pay the full price out of pocket. It's an accounting trick.

If the above is true, does it even make sense (and is it acceptable/normal) to still apply for extra-university-scholarships for those universities?

Yes. A scholarship is another line on your CV. It also means you can avoid teaching (which can be good, but takes time away from research) and you aren't dependent on your advisor's funding situation -- sometimes professors run out of funding and their students have to teach. The flipside is that, since you aren't dependent on your advisor's funding, it may be easier to find an advisor since you come for "free". Depending on timing, it can help with admissions to say "hey, I'm a free student".

Since I'm applying to roughly 10 universities (in 3 countries), I don't know yet where I will be studying. Is it advisable (and acceptable/normal) to already apply for as many scholarships as possible, even though I don't even know yet where I'll be studying?

Yes. It's completely standard for students to be applying to lots of places and to lots of scholarships. Universities expect and understand that.

Is it true that the optimal strategy for obtaining a scholarship is to go through websites like scholarships.com, internationalscholarships.com, and apply for all scholarships for which you are eligible? Or would I be missing something?

I'm not sure what the optimal strategy is. However, you should definitely look in as many places as possible. In particular, you should look at the each program you are applying to. There may be university- or program- specific scholarships that are not widely advertised.

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