Do graduate students get paid?

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Continuing your higher education and earning a graduate or master’s degree is a large financial investment. While being a graduate student is often a full-time job, there isn’t a full-time salary that comes with it. However, many colleges offer programs that come with monetary incentives for high-performing students.

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 much do graduate students get paid?

Earning a graduate degree is like earning an undergraduate degree — there isn’t a way to get paid just for being a student. However, graduate students do have the option to pursue assistantships, which vary by program and field of study.

Many programs offer stipends or tuition waivers in exchange for helping professors or engaging in advanced research with department faculty. Some programs may also offer salaried positions to students willing to become teaching assistants or independently teach their own courses.

The overall pay depends largely on the type of assistantship you pursue; PayScale lists the average salary for graduate assistants around $19,000, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest data shows that teaching assistants at the postsecondary level earn an average of $39,460.

Assistantships are generally competitive programs and are offered to high-performing students who excelled during their undergraduate education.

How much do Ph.D. students get paid?

Ph.D. programs are demanding; programs may ask students to conduct extensive research, take classes in person, instruct undergraduate students and pass examinations. Many Ph.D. programs also require students to produce a lengthy dissertation or thesis outlining and defending their research.

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 degree. Many universities will post the exact stipend amount on the program website.

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 might 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 also 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 of 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.

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Written by
Hanneh Bareham
Student loans reporter
Hanneh Bareham specializes in everything related to student loans and helping you finance your next educational endeavor. She aims to help others reach their collegiate and financial goals through making student loans easier to understand.
Edited by
Student loans editor