Key takeaways

  • Student stipends can be low, so having additional income from teaching or research may be essential
  • Graduate students aren’t guaranteed funding, but there are plenty of options to reduce the cost of your education
  • Teaching and research assistantships are the most common ways for graduate students to get paid

Getting a master’s degree can be extremely rewarding, but it is also expensive. Plus, being a graduate student is often a full-time job. If you are considering graduate school, you might be concerned about finding a source of income while you’re enrolled. Many colleges offer paid programs and positions to high-performing graduate students. These opportunities typically come in the form of graduate assistantship programs.

Not every graduate student will qualify for these programs, but it’s worth seeing what your school offers and whether you’re eligible to apply. Here’s what you need to know about graduate assistantship programs and how much you could make.

How graduate students get paid

Many programs offer stipends or tuition waivers in exchange for helping professors or engaging in advanced research with department faculty. These usually take the form of teaching or research assistantships or fellowships. Some programs may also offer salaried positions to students willing to become teaching assistants or independently teach courses.

Assistantships are generally competitive programs offered to high-performing students who excelled during their undergraduate education. Fellowships are often even more competitive and can be found either internally or through an external institution.

Other options outside of student loans are similar to undergrad: scholarships and grants. Scholarship opportunities may be more limited, but depending on your field of study, you may be able to find several that cover or significantly reduce the cost of your tuition.

How much do graduate students get paid?

The overall pay depends largely on the type of assistantship you pursue. PayScale lists the average salary for graduate assistants as around $26,000, but research graduate assistants make a slightly higher $30,500. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest data shows that teaching assistants at the postsecondary level earn an average of $20,000.

That said, it can be hard to pinpoint an exact amount. Pay is based on the university you attend, your program of study and where you live, among other factors. Some salary averages may include an additional stipend, while others list the amount you get paid after tuition reimbursement.

If you are already enrolled in a program, reach out to your advisor to find more information. If you are considering graduate education, make potential assistantships and stipends a point of research when comparing schools. Using a budget calculator can also help you determine what path is best for you.

How much do Ph.D. students get paid?

Like graduate programs, some Ph.D. programs will offer stipends to students, but it’s common for students to be responsible for paying their way through their degrees. Many universities will post the exact stipend amount on the program website.

You may be eligible for a teaching or research assistantship, which will offer you a salary in addition to your stipend. For example, at the University of Arkansas, Ph.D. assistantships have a minimum base pay of $19,096 and receive additional benefits, like a portion of their health insurance paid. In comparison, at the University of Miami, the annual salary for an assistantship in 2024 is $40,140, with health insurance and tuition paid for.

Like with every aspect of graduate school, your salary will depend on your school’s funding, the type of work you do and other factors.

Depending on your field of study, you may also be eligible for a fellowship. Fellowships may be available internally or externally, but most will not require a teaching or research position.

These three avenues of financial support allow you to study and write your dissertation without having to take on an extra job — or significant amounts of extra debt.

Is a student stipend enough to live on?

Student stipends typically aren’t enough to live on, especially factoring in tuition costs. However, if you don’t have any debt, live for free with a close family member or friend and are careful with your spending, a student stipend could help you make it through the few years you’re in graduate school. You can also check with your graduate program to see if it offers free housing for assistants or if there are other scholarships or stipends available.

If you need more money to cover your tuition or other expenses, you may need to take out a graduate school loan. While taking on debt for school isn’t ideal, it’s an extremely common way to pay for advanced degrees.

How to create a budget with your stipend

Creating a strict budget can help stretch your stipend further. The first thing you’ll need to do is eliminate any unnecessary spending, including dining out, subscription services or services that are already provided through your campus (like gym memberships). Next, think about areas in which you could be overspending. For example, where are you getting your clothing and groceries? Try shopping at budget or bulk grocery stores and consignment shops instead of buying new.

Textbooks and school supplies can add up, especially on a student stipend. Check to see if your school offers technology rentals for things like laptops and specialty calculators. Also, consider buying or renting used textbooks outside your school’s bookstore, where the prices are typically inflated.

Lastly, when it comes to budgeting with a student stipend, prioritize your monthly living expenses and bills. Not paying bills on time can invite hardship — and potentially even a collection notice — down the road. If you have an emergency fund, try not to dip into it unless you truly need the cash.

Bottom line

It can be difficult to manage your budget and find sources of income while you’re in graduate school. If you are smart with your money and have few other living expenses, taking on an assistantship or another funded opportunity from your graduate program could help you make ends meet while you’re in school. However, the stipends you earn as a graduate student are rarely enough to live on alone. It is always a good idea to look into financial aid and scholarship opportunities if you are worried about the financial logistics of going to graduate school.

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