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How to Pay for a PhD: Fellowships for Graduate Students, Research Funding, and More


By Stevie Otto on February 1, 2021

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If you've ever considered earning a doctorate, one of the questions you've undoubtedly asked yourself is "how will I pay for a Ph.D.?" 

The good news is, most doctoral students receive fellowships and research funding from the their college or university, and are not directly responsible for paying for the majority of their Ph.D. costs.

Do you need funding for your Ph.D. program? Let us help...

Fully Funded Ph.D. Programs: What Makes them Possible?

Fully funded Ph.D. programs allow doctoral students to focus exclusively on their studies and research, without having to hold a full time job to make ends meet. Full funding is often made possible through one or more fellowships or grants from the department, the graduate school, and other organizations. SMU currently has 55 Moody School funded Ph.D. students.

55 Fully Funded Ph.D. Fellows Graphic

SMU’s newest school, the Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, is able to offer a wide range of fellowships thanks, in large part, to a landmark $100 million endowment from the Moody Foundation. SMU's Ph.D. programs cater to graduate students who want to engage in advanced, interdisciplinary, innovative studies, and data-driven research.  In this new chapter of our story, we leading the charge to discover technological solutions to the many local and global issues that challenge us as we move further into the 21st century.

This endowment and the associated operational funds support…

  • Graduate students
  • SMU faculty, renowned visiting faculty, and deanships
  • Leading scholars who conduct world-changing research
  • Expansion of interdisciplinary research and development

“We cannot overstate the power and reach of this gift. This is a transformational moment for SMU and Dallas, signaling that SMU is a premier institution with the means to be a full partner in commercial and global problem-solving, and a pipeline for leaders to tackle those challenges."

— R. Gerald Turner, SMU President

In addition to propelling SMU forward as a leading research institution, the Moody endowment has an untold impact on the Dallas community surrounding SMU. "As the Texas economy booms, companies and institutions look to universities like SMU for innovative ideas, data-driven research, and technology that can create opportunity,” Turner said. “The Moody School will be the portal to all of our resources — the entry point for any organization with a research challenge to approach the University for partnership.”

What Does the Moody Foundation Grant Mean for Graduate Students?

The Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies offers master’s and doctoral degrees that span many fields across four of SMU’s colleges and schools. These are the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, the Lyle School of Engineering, the Meadows School of the Arts, and the Simmons School of Education and Human Development.

In a purely practical sense, this remarkable donation opens new doors for graduate students seeking fellowships and grants. Students in each of the four colleges and schools noted above can apply for fellowships, grants, and research funding that advance the goals of SMU. Let’s explore each of these funding mechanisms and discuss how prospective SMU grad students can secure these forms of funding.

Fellowships for Graduate Students at SMU

Moody Graduate Fellowships

Beginning with the Fall 2021 applicants, SMU will offer fellowships to a select group of Ph.D. applicants. These fellowships reward applicants who show exceptional promise for academic success. They provide tuition waivers, health insurance, and pensions of $30,000 for up to five years.

Students who apply to a Ph.D. program at SMU by the priority deadline are eligible for the Moody Graduate Fellowship. Each department may nominate only one candidate, and SMU will consider only candidates nominated by their department.

University Ph.D. Fellowships

Exceptional Ph.D. and students with Ph.D.-equivalents qualify for a fellowship grant that can defray educational costs for up to five years, contingent on satisfactory progress toward the degree.

All students who apply to a Ph.D. program by the priority deadline are eligible for the University Ph.D. Fellowship. Each department may nominate a limited number of candidates, and SMU will consider only candidates nominated by their department.

Mustang Fellowships

Mustang Fellowships help SMU improve the diversity of its graduate student population. These provide tuition waivers, health insurance, and pensions of $30,000 for up to five years for Ph.D. students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and identify as diverse in their academic disciplines.

As a Ph.D. program applicant, you’re invited to apply for this fellowship through a brief essay in your application. You should explain why your educational, cultural, geographic, or familial background will contribute to SMU’s graduate program diversity. Departments nominate candidates for the Mustang Fellowship as part of their application review process.

Moody Dissertation Fellowships

These fellowships recognize and support outstanding Ph.D. students as they complete their dissertations. SMU reserves this award for Ph.D. students in the dissertation-writing phase of their degrees. It is available for those whose research shows exceptional promise for impact in their field of study.

The awards provide tuition waivers, health insurance, and a stipend of $30,000 for one year. Recipients commit to develop and defend their dissertations in the fellowship year. Their departments must nominate students to be eligible for this fellowship.

Dean’s Dissertation Fellowships

These fellowships provide support to Ph.D. students in the dissertation-writing phase of their degrees, allowing them to focus on completing and defending their dissertations. They provide tuition waiver, health insurance, and a stipend commensurate with the standard Ph.D. stipend in their department. Recipients commit to complete and defend their dissertations in the fellowship year. Each department must nominate students to be eligible for this fellowship.

Grants for Ph.D. Students at SMU

Graduate Student Travel Grants

Graduate students can receive up to $750 in reimbursement for travel expenses to present an accepted paper or poster at a conference. You can apply for a travel grant here.

SMU accepts travel grant applications year-round but awards only one grant per student each academic year. The department chair and the graduate advisor must sponsor each proposal. Note that travel grants cannot be awarded retroactively, you'll need to submit a proposal before you travel.

Dedman Graduate Student Assembly Funding

The Dedman College Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) provides funding for graduate students in each department of Dedman College. The GSA receives a portion of the student fees paid by the graduate students in Dedman College. Those funds circulate back to graduate students who receive small grants to cover certain expenses that range from $100 to a few hundred dollars.

Graduate students can use this funding to pay for thesis and dissertation related expenses, such as presenting a paper or poster at a convention, conference, or other graduate activity, attending conferences, and purchasing membership in professional organizations and journals. Grad students may apply before the funding is necessary, or for reimbursement up to 30 days after the activity. 

Begin Your Fully Funded Ph.D. Program at SMU

With more than 100 years of history to build on, the SMU community is excited for the next chapter of growth that has been made possible through the Moody Foundation. With growing enrollment numbers, the Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies is already attracting the best students, staff, and faculty. Now, SMU and its graduate students are positioned to make even greater research contributions to our local Dallas community, our nation, and the world.

The new Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies is more committed than ever to helping grad students thrive. Learn how by accessing our resource!

Access the Guide


Stevie Otto

Written by Stevie Otto

The Director of Recruitment and Admissions works closely with graduate departments across the institution to help promote their doctoral programs to prospective students. She is also a valuable resource for interested students who want to learn more about the graduate student experience at SMU and who need help starting the application process. She has worked in higher education for several years, starting as an academic advisor and transitioning into admissions and recruitment.


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