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How PhD Students Get Paid

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The most common questions (and biggest misconceptions) about getting a PhD revolve around money. Maybe you’ve heard that PhD students get paid just to study, or maybe you’ve even heard that PhD students don’t get paid at all.

It makes sense — how you make money as a PhD student is different from most other career routes, and the process can be highly variable depending on your school, discipline and research interests. 

So, let’s address the big question: do PhD students get paid? Most of the time the answer is yes. PhD programs that don’t offer some form of compensation, like stipends, tuition remission or assistantships, are rare but they do exist. On the other hand, some programs, like a PhD in Economics, are so competitive that unpaid programs are virtually unheard of. 

To help you gain a better understanding of PhD funding and decide if getting a PhD is worth it for you, here are some of the most common examples of how PhD students are paid. 

PhD Stipends

Most PhD programs expect students to study full-time. In exchange, they’re usually offered a stipend — a fixed sum of money paid as a salary — to cover the cost of housing and other living expenses. How much you get as a stipend depends on your university, but the range for PhD stipends is usually between $20,000 - $30,000 per year.  

In some cases, your stipend will be contingent upon an assistantship.


A PhD assistantship usually falls into one of two categories: research or teaching. 

For research assistantships, faculty generally determine who and how many assistants they need to complete their research and provide funding for those assistants through their own research grants from outside organizations. 

A teaching assistantship is usually arranged through your university and involves teaching an undergraduate or other class. Assistantships allow graduate students to gain valuable experience leading a classroom, and helps to balance out the university’s stipend costs. 


Fellowships provide financial support for PhD students, usually without the teaching or research requirement of an assistantship. The requirements and conditions vary depending on the discipline, but fellowships are generally merit based and can be highly competitive. Fellowships usually cover at least the cost of tuition, but some may even pay for scholarly extracurricular activities, like trips, projects or presentations. 

Fellowships can be offered through your university or department as well as outside sources. 

Part-time Employment

PhD students don’t commonly have additional employment during their course of study, but it is possible depending on your discipline and the rigor of your program. Flexible, low-demand jobs like freelance writing or tutoring can be a natural fit for many PhD students, and might be flexible enough to balance along with your coursework. 

All in all, it’s fair to say that though the form of payment may be unfamiliar, PhD students do in fact get paid. But keep in mind that while most PhD programs offer some kind of funding for students, it’s not guaranteed. 

Want to know more about how to pay for a PhD? Explore our Guide to Choosing and Applying for PhD Programs


Learn more about

doctoral degrees at SMU, and how you can choose the right program and thrive in it, in our Guide to Getting a PhD.

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