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PhD Funding Options: Financial Aid & Grants

PhD programs often require a serious investment of both time and money. Before you begin taking out loans, it can be helpful to learn about other financial aid options that may cover some of the cost of your education without requiring repayment down the line.

Thankfully, there are a variety of PhD funding options available to students. In this guide, we’ll explore some of these options, including grants, fellowships, assistantships, and more, to help you determine the most cost-effective way to fund your PhD program.

Grants and Scholarships 

Unlike loans, grants and scholarships don’t have to be repaid after you graduate, making them excellent financial aid options for those who qualify. Qualification and application requirements will differ depending on the nature of the grant or scholarship. 

  • Grants – Grants are usually regarded as need-based financial assistance, although some grants may be available for other reasons, such as service in the U.S. military. 
  • Scholarships – Scholarships are often merit-based awards that can focus on academics, athletics, or special interests, as well as financial need. 

Both grants and scholarships may help cover a variety of PhD expenses, including a portion of your tuition, school supplies, or general living expenses. It’s important to make sure you understand the specific requirements for qualification and application so that you don’t miss out on these opportunities. 

To take advantage of the grants and scholarships at your disposal, you can: 

  • Ask the head of your doctoral program about grants and scholarships specific to your field. 
  • Connect with your university’s office of financial assistance to learn more about grants and scholarships specific to your school.
  • Reach out to the Department of Education in both your home state and your prospective school’s state to learn about state grants.

Fellowships and Assistantships

Fellowships are a particular type of financial aid that offer support in exchange for service, usually in the form of a research or teaching opportunity. Fellowships can be granted from federal, state, organizational, or school institutions, and may work by reducing the cost of your tuition or providing financial aid to help cover other expenses. 

Similarly, assistantships usually require doctoral students to perform some service in exchange for financial aid. Assistantships differ from fellowships in that they typically only come from the school and are usually tied directly to tuition waivers—sometimes covering the entire cost of tuition. The workload for assistantships often requires research or teaching.

As you explore the fellowships and assistantships available to you, make sure you understand the specifics of each, including:

  • The amount of financial aid available
  • How the aid is given 
  • What your fellowship or assistantship responsibilities will entail 

Employer Tuition Reimbursement

Another way to potentially fund your PhD is through employer tuition reimbursement. Depending on the company you work for, your employer might reimburse some or all of your tuition costs, especially if your advanced degree will benefit the company. 

Most often, employers will provide you with a one-time payment after you’ve demonstrated your tuition expenses. Although this means you’ll likely have to cover the initial tuition payment upfront, the reimbursement can help you recover some or all of those finances.

Your employer might also have additional requirements that need to be met in order for you to receive reimbursement, such as: 

  • Staying with the company for a certain amount of time following reimbursement 
  • Continuing to work a certain number of hours each week 

Federal & Private Loans

Once you’ve exhausted all other financial assistance options, it might be time to consider taking out student loans to help pay for your doctoral program. There are two basic types of student loans: federal and private. 

  • Federal student loans – Compared to private loans, federal loans often have lower interest rates, and payments don’t usually begin until students have completed their program.
  • Private student loans – These loans are often provided through institutions like banks or credit unions, which usually have stricter payment schedules and higher interest rates. These institutions also factor in your financial health—including your income and credit score—when determining whether you qualify.

If you decide to pursue student loans, make sure you shop around to find the one that best fits into your financial plan and offers the lowest interest rate.

Find Funding Options for Your Education at Alliant International University

Doctoral programs may require you to invest your time and money, but your PhD can be an investment in your future. Fortunately, by understanding the financial aid options available to you, you can create a more cost-effective plan for funding your PhD.

When you enroll in a PhD program at Alliant International University, our Financial Aid Office can help guide you through the various financial aid and scholarship options we offer so that you can make the best decisions when it comes to investing in your future. Read about our financial aid and scholarships to learn more.


  1. “Financial Aid for Graduate School: Who Qualifies and How to Apply.” Nerdwallet. December 20, 2021.…. Accessed January 30, 2021.
  2. “Guide to Grants for College.” Nerdwallet. Jun 20, 2021.…. Accessed January 30, 2021. 
  3. “Financial Aid Guide for Graduate Students.” Best Colleges. August 26, 2021.…. Accessed January 30, 2021.

“How to Pay for a PhD.” Lenedu. July 1, 2021. Accessed January 30, 2021.

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