How do graduates pay for doctoral education?
The level and type of financial support available to doctoral students affect how long it will take them to complete their degrees and, sometimes, whether they will complete the degree at all. These factors also influence the enrollment decisions of the next generation of prospective graduate students.
Primary source of financial support: 2002–12
Sources of financial support: Overview
Research assistantships as well as fellowships or grants are the most important sources of financial support for a growing proportion of doctoral students. Compared with years past, fewer doctoral students now rely primarily on their own resources—loans, personal savings, personal earnings, and the earnings or savings of their spouse, partner, or family—to finance their doctoral studies.
Primary source of financial support, by field of study: 2012
Sources of financial support: By field of study
In 2012, fellowships or grants were the most common primary source of support for doctoral students in life sciences. Research assistantships were the dominant source in physical sciences and in engineering. In other non-science and engineering (non-S&E) fields, similar proportions of doctorate recipients reported fellowships or grants, teaching assistantships, and their own resources as their primary source of financial support. Teaching assistantships and fellowships or grants were the primary sources of support for doctoral students in humanities. Doctoral students in education fields were the most likely to rely on their own resources, with nearly half reporting this as their primary source of support.
Self-support rate, by field of study: 2002–12
Availability of financial resources
One measure of the availability of financial support to graduate students is the rate of self-support—the proportion of students who rely primarily on their own resources to complete their doctoral studies.
The self-support rate has been declining in all fields of study since 2002, indicating that other sources of financial support are available for financing doctoral education. Doctorate recipients in life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering fields have had the lowest self-support rates over the past 10 years. Those in education fields have had the highest rates.
Graduate education-related debt, by field of study: 2012
The amount of education-related debt incurred by doctorate recipients during graduate school is another indicator of the availability of financial support. In 2012, more than two-thirds of doctorate recipients in life sciences and more than three-quarters of those in physical sciences and engineering fields had no debt related to their graduate education when they were awarded the doctorate. In social sciences, humanities, education, and other non-S&E fields, that proportion dropped to about one-half.
Within the broad fields of study, roughly 8% to 11% of doctorate recipients had incurred low levels ($10,000 or less) of education-related debt by the time they graduated. The shares of doctoral students with education-related debt burdens over $30,000 were greatest in the social sciences (32%), education (31%), humanities (28%), and other non-S&E fields (28%).