How to Pay for a Ph.D. or Professional Doctorate

If your heart is set on earning a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree, you’ll join an elite club. In the United States, only 4.9 million people—about 2% of adults—hold a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree.

A Ph.D. can lead to a significantly higher salary. According to The College Board, the median earnings for those with doctoral degrees was $120,700, 38% more than the median for those with master’s degrees.

However, earning a Ph.D. can be an expensive endeavor. To avoid racking up too much debt, learn how to pay for a doctorate with grants, scholarships and other sources of financial aid.

What Does a Ph.D. Cost?

If your goal is to earn a Ph.D., be prepared for a significant investment of both time and money. Depending on the type of university you choose and your program, a Ph.D. usually takes three to five years to complete. If you attend school part-time, it can take even longer.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), tuition and fees cost, on average, $20,513 for the 2021-2022 academic year, so you’ll spend anywhere from $61,539 to $102,565 to complete a Ph.D. program. In addition, you’ll need to account for about $16,000 to $20,000 per year in added costs, such as room and board, supplies and other fees.

That total is on top of what you spent on a bachelor’s and master’s degree, so your education will likely cost well into the six figures. With such a high cost, it’s no surprise that many Ph.D. earners have substantial student loan balances.

7 Ways To Pay For a Ph.D.

Ph.D. costs can be significant, but a variety of financial aid opportunities can make the price tag more manageable. Paying for a Ph.D. is possible using the following options:

1. Fully Funded Ph.D. Programs

Fully funded Ph.D. programs typically cover the cost of tuition and fees, and they also provide a monthly stipend for living expenses and health insurance. Some examples of fully funded Ph.D. programs include:

  • Boston University. Attendees of Boston University’s Charles River Campus can take advantage of a fully funded model. The program includes 100% tuition coverage, a health insurance credit and a living expense stipend. Depending on your program, the stipend ranges from $27,318 to $40,977 per year.
  • Duke University. At Duke University, Ph.D. students are guaranteed five years of tuition and living stipends and up to six years of full health and dental insurance coverage. The amount of financial support varies by program and stipend amounts range from $2,538 to $3,217 per month.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management. MIT’s fully funded Ph.D. program covers students for up to five years. The program pays for the full cost of tuition and provides students with a monthly stipend of $4,497, student medical insurance and a new laptop. Students also receive up to $4,500 for travel and conferences.

Not all universities offer fully funded Ph.D. programs, and existing programs are highly competitive. For example, the Stanford University Department of Political Science Ph.D. program selects 12 to 15 students per year.

This Franklin Covey Planner saved my sanity in my doctorate program. 

2. Ph.D. Fellowship Programs

A fellowship program provides students with financial support so they can focus on their academic work. Issued based on the student’s academic merit or research achievements, fellowships may or may not have a service requirement attached.

Fellowships can come from universities, nonprofit organizations or government agencies. For example:

You can search for fellowship opportunities through the ProFellow database.

3. Doctoral Scholarships

Scholarships are available to Ph.D. students, and these merit-based awards can come from nonprofit organizations, private companies, states and government agencies. The award amounts vary, ranging from smaller awards that may only cover incidental expenses to more substantial awards of $20,000. For example:

You can search for additional scholarship opportunities with tools like FastWeb or

4. Ph.D. Grants

Unlike scholarships, grants are usually awarded based on the student’s financial need. Ph.D. grants can be issued by states and nonprofit organizations. For example:

You can find Ph.D. grant opportunities through your state education agency or CareerOneStop.

5. Employer Reimbursement

If you’re currently working full- or part-time, your employer may be willing to help with some of your education expenses. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 48% of employers offer tuition assistance or reimbursement benefits.

Contact your human resources department to find out if tuition reimbursement is available and what you need to do to qualify for the benefit.

6. Federal Student Loans

Depending on the other financial aid you qualify for, you may need to borrow some money to cover your remaining expenses. Federal student loans are a good starting point since they have more borrower protections than other options, and you may qualify for loan forgiveness later on based on your employment.

Ph.D. students may qualify for either direct unsubsidized loans or grad PLUS loans. Unsubsidized loans have lower interest rates but have annual and aggregate borrowing maximums that your program may exceed. If that’s the case, you can use grad PLUS loans to pay for your remaining expenses.

Check out this book on mentoring programs for doctorate students

7. Out of Pocket

For many students like me, all of the above were not an option and it is the case for many doctorate programs that are offered online. What does that mean? Paying for your program out of pocket. 

I returned to university in 2014 on a literal dare from my teenage daughter. She said, “Dad, I bet I finish college before you do.” Well, more than 10 years and almost three degrees later I am still here. I have paid for my entire doctorate degree out of my own pocket. I am paying per term, per credit at Liberty University where it is $575 (at the time of this post) per doctorate credit hour. I am in four-credit project courses right now so that is over $2000.00 per semester. 

Many online programs offer payment plans for tuition but beware, that most programs will not allow you to enroll in the next semester if you have a balance on your account. 

If you would like to learn more about my triumphs and struggles as I earn my Doctor of Strategic Leadership you can read about it here