A major factor in selecting a potential graduate program is whether or not that program offers any graduate program funding, in other words, stipends to its students. For many students who are pursuing graduate study, selecting a graduate program based on funding seems like a no-brainer: find a graduate program that offers the most money to its students. On the surface, this seems like a sound decision, but you should consider more factors besides just graduate program funding when you are trying to choose a school.
Students sometimes mistakenly believe that graduate program funding offered to students are “free” monies, essentially paying them to go to school. Though these types of stipends do exist, they are often the exception and not the rule. Many programs that offer students stipends require students to work for the programs in some capacity. Common work that is required in return for stipends includes working in research labs, teaching, or assisting faculty members with their undergraduate courses.
When you are looking into schools, you will want to determine if graduate program funding is offered and what is required to receive funding from the programs in which you are interested. Once you know what is required to obtain graduate program funding, you can make a more informed decision about whether or not the funding will be beneficial to you. Questions to consider when making this decision include the following: Can you handle the demands of the assistantships on top of your course load? Are you planning to work outside academia while you are in school? Could you potentially earn more if you work outside academia?
You might not want to immediately dismiss a program from your list of potential schools simply because it does not offer graduate program funding. Many really good programs simply cannot offer funding to their students because of limited budgets. However, if you research the program’s institution in its entirety, you could find scholarships or assistantships available through other departments.