Grad Application Time: Learn to Play the Funding Game

So, it’s that time of year when propsective students are applying to Ph.D. programs. And here, I’m talking about Ph.D. not SLPD, not MA– but, the research Ph.D. I think that the most important consideration in selecting a Ph.D. program is finding a mentor or group of mentors whose work you are interested in. You want to find a good fit in terms of work style. Some mentors are more hands on, some are more hands off, there’s no right way– it’s more about the match.

The other thing that is really important is funding. Once you’ve identified your top 2-3 programs, you want to get the best funding package possible. Note that I still think that the match is more important than funding. It would be miserable to go for the most money but in a program where you don’t have a mentor that’s a good fit, or where you don’t get to do the work you want to do.

Most top programs are going to fund you for the entire program of study. At UCI’s SOE we certainly do that. And, the funding is generally the same for all students, but there are some differences. We cover the cost of tuition (in-state or out of state), and we provide a stipend. Usually students have jobs of some sort from year to year. Sometimes, they may work as a teaching assistant or as a research assistant. Both of these are good positions to have because they additionally give you good experience in teaching and research. Students who work on my grants for example have access to all the current and past data for their own research studies.

But, there is other funding available as well. And your program should try to get you all the funding you can get. Funding might be available for students with a high GPA or GRE, or there may be funding for students who attended certain schools, there’s also funding for students who are first generation students. Some of these funds are small extras– maybe covering summer (that’s important) or some extra funding during one or more of the years.

There may also be competitive funds. It’s a strange phenomenon that we (universities, not faculty per se) are willing to compete for students. So, if someone else wants to fund you, we want to fund you MORE! And, as such, if you have an offer from another institution, we can use that offer to GET YOU MORE MONEY!

Here’s the secret though. Wait, talk, wait, inform, communicate, and WAIT. Do not accept your offer to that program till ALL THE MONEY IS IN! It takes time to round up the $$, and once you say you’re coming, we CANNOT ask for more money. Most places won’t (or can’t) tell you this up front, but you can ask your mentor about it.

I know it seems strange to ask for money or to ask for more, and to share your offer so that you can get more, but help us help you by waiting and sharing your offers. This also means applying to more than one program (you want to do this anyway so that you can compare programs and find the right fit). So, go ahead and ask. Don’t go if you’re not funded, and stay in communication with your potential mentors and graduate coordinator. They will work to get you the best deal they can.

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