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How to Fund a PhD: Top Tips & Advice

Starting the process of obtaining your PhD is an exciting time. You get to select your classes and advisors, hone in on your particular area of interest, and dream about all the opportunities that lay ahead of you. But one part of the journey towards your terminal degree can feel more daunting than exciting: figuring out how you’ll afford your degree.

More often than not, a doctorate can come with serious sticker shock. While a PhD can often be thought of as an investment in one’s education and career, it’s nevertheless important to consider how to fund a PhD and how to mitigate the price of your degree. 

Read on to learn about a few different avenues for obtaining PhD funds.

Student Loans

Federal or private student loans are one of the most common ways to fund a PhD program. When considering loans as part of your PhD funding, there are a number of different options to look into.

Federal Loans

Your first introduction to the federal student aid system may have come during your undergraduate years when you completed the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). While graduate students are not eligible for subsidized federal loans through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program, there are other types of loans you may be able to receive, including:

  • Unsubsidized direct loans – These loans often offer lower interest rates than other types of student loans making them an appealing option for financial planning.1 Graduate students may take out up to $20,500 annually in unsubsidized direct loans, with eligibility determined by your FAFSA. 

    However, it’s important to note that unlike the subsidized loans you’re eligible to take out as an undergraduate, the interest on unsubsidized loans begins accruing while you’re in school, though you’re not required to repay it until six months after you graduate.
  • GradPLUS Loans – A PLUS loan can be used to cover the gap between your education costs and any other financial aid you’ve received. As with unsubsidized loans, repayment generally isn’t required until after you graduate or drop below half-time enrollment, but PLUS loans do require a credit check and do still accrue interest while you’re in school.

Private Loans

Another option for funding your PhD is through private student loans. While federal loans tend to be capped at a certain amount, private loans usually are only limited by the cost of your institution.2 As with PLUS loans, these loans typically require a credit check. 

Some drawbacks of private loans to consider include:

  • Interest rates tend to be higher than federal student loans.
  • Private student loans are not eligible for the Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program or COVID-19 forbearance.
  • Private loans generally don’t offer the same flexible repayment options that federal loans do.


Scholarships that award students funds toward the cost of their education are another option for funding your PhD. Your school might even have a guide to searching for the best scholarships for your program, like Alliant International University’s Scholarship Search portal which lets scholarship seekers research opportunities based on their course of study or keywords. 

There are also a number of websites you can use to help search for scholarships, including:

Scholarships are typically merit-based and can have any number of criteria or eligibility requirements, so don’t be afraid to dig deep when seeking out opportunities.

Work-Study Programs

A way to fund your degree while also gaining hands-on experience is through the Federal Work-Study program. Work-study jobs are part-time jobs that help pay for education-related costs and are usually considered part of your overall financial aid package. These jobs are typically on-campus positions but may also be off-campus if your employer is a nonprofit organization or a public interest agency. 

Public Service

If you’re interested in serving the greater good, you may receive financial benefits thanks to the wide array of public service financial aid options offered by the government. 

These programs can include:

  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness – Those with direct federal student loans who work in a public service field (such as government service, public school teachers, or qualified nonprofit work) are eligible to have the remainder of their loans forgiven after making 120 months of qualified payments.
  • Military Service – Students who are either active military members or veterans are eligible for a number of aid options, most notably through the GI Bill, which provides tuition assistance and aid to those who have served.
  • Service Programs – Several federal service programs offer education stipends, tuition assistance, or loan forgiveness in exchange for work in underserved communities. These programs can be an incredible way to gain unique experience while also offsetting educational costs. These programs include AmeriCorps, Teach for America, the Peace Corps, and the National Health Services Corps.

Funding Your PhD: What’s Right for You?

When considering how to fund your PhD, it’s important to take a clear-eyed look at your unique circumstances to consider what options might be best for you. You might consider a mix of loans and scholarship opportunities or plan on using your public service work to pay for the cost of your education.

No matter how you choose to fund your degree, Alliant International University offers a wide array of PhD programs that provide access to expert faculty members, hands-on learning opportunities, and the chance to dive deeper into your chosen field of study. Inquire today to start your PhD journey!



  1.  "Mistakes To Avoid When Weighing Graduate Plus Student Loans." U.S. News And World Report. 2021.…. Accessed January 30, 2022.
  2.  “Federal Vs. Private Student Loans: What Are The Drawbacks? - Nerdwallet.” Nerdwallet. 2021.…. Accessed January 30, 2022.

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