I am currently finishing my MSc degree in Mathematics (Applied Stochastics) and looking into the different opportunities I have for doing a PhD in Biostatistics (or Statistics) abroad. The USA is one of the countries I am looking into. However, I am not entirely sure what to expect from trying to get into the USA for a PhD, and actually doing a PhD there.

While in a number of EU countries, the PhD candidate is treated as an employee and gets paid a salary and enjoys certain benefits, the financial context of a PhD study in the USA is not entirely clear to me. I know I would need to look for funding (which I don't know how and where either yet), but what can I realistically expect? So far I am still debt-free and would continue to be so if I were to go to a country where PhD students are paid a salary, but is hoping to have a (relatively) debt-free PhD study in the USA realistic? Would I need a loan if I were to get into for example Berkeley? Overall, looking for funding seems a stressful part of doing a PhD in the USA, or does it turn out to be easier than I seem to think?

  • This is the kind of question that you can find answer via Google. If you want to do research, you should at least be able to answer yourself this question. Some keywords: "Teaching Assistant", "Research Assistant" salary etc.
    – sean
    Mar 29, 2017 at 7:57
  • I have done research, but it is tough to paint a complete picture due to not being familiar with the US graduate school system. From what I understand, offers are made tailored specifically to each candidate, and thus it is hard to know what I would/could be offered. Hence I came here looking for people with more familiarity to the whole system willing to share their knowledge.
    – Sanderr
    Mar 29, 2017 at 8:10
  • In the US, in the mathematical sciences (e.g. statistics), it is not usual to admit a student to a doctoral program without funding. Funding means a monthly stipend. What the current amounts are I don't know, but I imagine in the range of 2000-3000 a month (pretax, for at least nine months). However, in many cases it may be necessary to teach. Whether teaching is required or not depends on how well funded the research area and the institution are. Some funded students teach while others do not have to teach (this is the difference between "teaching assistant" and "research assistant").
    – Dan Fox
    Mar 29, 2017 at 8:34
  • Does the total funding package typically cover everything so that no loan is necessary? Is it possible to live relatively comfortably, also in the more expensive states?
    – Sanderr
    Mar 29, 2017 at 8:44
  • If you have funding and thus a stipend, you generally don't need loans, but the cost of living in the area very strongly effects how you'll have to live. In expensive areas you will generally need to have room-mates to afford the cost of rent, as having your own apartment near campus eats up half or more of your monthly stipend (and you only have 9 months of funding, so you are on your own for the summer, no guarantees). In less expensive areas you can have your own place, a dog and a cat, and a wife and kid or two living comfortably (though on a tight budget). You can live either way.
    – BrianH
    Mar 29, 2017 at 19:53

1 Answer 1


I am a PhD student from Ecuador studying Software Engineering. I received my US green card a couple of months ago, but I did my bachelor's degree in the US and applied to the PhD program as an international student, so hopefully my experience will help you.

Something that my professors told me while I was getting my bachelor's is to NEVER accept an offer that does not pay for my education and does not give me a monthly stipend for the entirety of the program. They told me that this is very common for PhD programs in the sciences. I know that this is true for Computer Science and Software Engineering; I am getting a monthly stipend and do not have to worry about any financial obligations with my university since it is all covered by the research money that my advisor has. In fact, I have no idea how expensive classes are here in my university since I do not have to worry about that. Now, I am not sure about Biostats or Statistics, but since it is a STEM field, the same cases might apply to those fields. You might be able to contact the business offices of the programs that you want to apply to check with them.

Another thing I was told when applying to graduate school is to apply for external funding such as fellowships or grants. This is beneficial for the university since they do not have to spend money in you and they get a graduate student who will do research and make them money. Unfortunately, all the fellowships and grants I looked required the applicant to be a US citizen. So that did not apply to me. Some universities that I applied to had scholarships for international student, although I did not get any of them.

You will have to pay for your own health insurance and living arrangements, but most universities will help you with those tasks once you have accepted their offer. All graduate students who I know can survive with the stipend they receive and the expenses that they have. I have never heard of a graduate student that is struggling with their finances.

In summary, being an international graduate student in the US is not that complicated as it seems. International students are actually the majority group in graduate school! If your program is in the sciences, you might not have to pay anything for the program and you will receive an stipend for your work. I have never heard of an international graduate student that left their program with any type of debt.

  • Thank you, it sounds like the USA is something I could really consider for my PhD.
    – Sanderr
    Mar 29, 2017 at 20:05
  • I am glad I could help! Mar 29, 2017 at 20:18

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