People keep telling me that if you can’t get your graduate degree paid for, you probably shouldn’t be getting a graduate degree in the first place. Is that actually true? Do that many schools even offer fully-funded programs anymore?

-- Less Money More Problems

Dear Less Money More Problems,

First, there are plenty of fully-funded graduate programs, and most of them are well-established PhD programs. Not all PhD programs offer full funding, but among those that do, the majority of these programs are PhD programs. Finding a program for a fully-funded, terminal Master’s degree, on the other hand, is rare. Forms of funding for Master’s programs may exist in employer subsidies, grants/fellowships, or existing programs at the institution.

Now, regarding only obtaining a graduate degree from a fully-funded program, this depends on the type of program to which you want to apply. Depending on the industry in which you hope to land your dream job, you may not even need a graduate degree to have the job title, salary, and flexibility you desire.

If you are still convinced that you need to go to grad school, you should be aware that not all graduate programs are alike. Even across the same field of study, graduate programs differ dramatically from each other. As you probably know, more competitive programs usually result in higher quality of education. Then, higher quality of education usually results in the program’s ability to fully fund its students. This is why people are advising you to stay away from programs that don’t offer funding: Pay-your-own-way programs tend to be lower quality programs compared to fully-funded ones, so they usually produce fewer graduates who leave with employment contracts in hand. Additionally, students who pay their own way usually work while in school, so they may take longer to graduate.

Depending on which program you are interested in, there are plenty of fully-funded doctoral programs. However, these are usually the Tier 1 schools that are incredibly difficult to get into. Not only do you need to have impressive credentials, but you need to stand out above all the other 200+ applicants who also have impressive credentials. I once saw a statistic that compared acceptance rates of doctoral clinical psychology programs and medical schools. On average, it is apparently more difficult to get into a PhD clinical psychology program than it is to get into medical school. Just know that getting into a doctoral program—especially a fully-funded one—is one of the hardest parts about graduate school.

If you’re interested in comparing graduate schools across a variety of different measures, check out . This tool offers rankings that are based on metrics, such as percentage of faculty with grants, job outcomes for graduates, and completion rates. I know it feels like less money brings more problems when it comes to applying to graduate school, but if you do the work to get accepted to a fully-funded program, you will thank yourself, come graduation day.

--Sara Brady, PhD

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