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Can I do my online PhD fully funded?

June 10, 20243 min read

Can online PhDs be funded?


I could stop the article here, but I want to give some context.

It is possible to get enough individual scholarships (ie, $2k or $5k each) to cover your tuition. 

It is not possible to get a fully funded PhD where they pay for your tuition, living stipend, and healthcare in an online or part-time program (unless your company is supporting you).  

Here’s why fully funded offers are reserved for full-time on-campus PhD students:

  • A fully funded PhD is a partnership, where both parties agree there is value to be gained. The university gains value from PhD students producing high quality research projects or teaching classes for undergraduates.

  • The PhD student gains value in learning new knowledge, skills, and networks to help them launch their career after they graduate with their PhD.

  • A university is paying you to learn and go to school. They do this because they value what you bring to the university and the work you will produce while you are there as a PhD student.

  • It is not charity. It is not a “scholarship”. It is an agreement between both parties that they value each other's time and expertise.

What if I don’t want to do my PhD full time?

Most online or part-time PhD programs are for working professionals who do not want to leave their current role and salary to pursue their PhD.

This is a great option for those who like their job and have the time to balance full-time work with part-time school.

People get so caught up worrying about paying for their degree or trying to find a fully funded online option that they forget to do the math.

If you get a fully-funded PhD offer, you have to leave your current job. You can have side jobs, but you are expected to be participating and engaged on-campus - hence why you can’t keep your normal 40-hr salary job.

Here’s the ROI math on that fully funded offer:

My new PhD stipend will be ~$35,000/year plus free healthcare. So now, instead of making $75,000/year in my salary I’m only making $35,000. If I expect to get a pay bump with my new degree, this dip in income over the 4 years makes sense. If not, it may not financially make sense.

On the flip side, if you make $75,000/year and then pursue your online PhD where tuition is $20,000/year, you’re still making $55,000/year, which is more than you will be making in your fully funded PhD role.

It may take longer to get your PhD, and you’re juggling full-time work and classes, but you’ll have more money in your pocket if you do it online or part-time.

What are the online PhD options?

To be clear, most PhD programs are not even offered online or part-time. They are investing in your ability to work on projects and produce research. 

Degree finder

From Wisconsin’s online degree finder, once you select Doctorate in some fields there are no programs available.

During your online PhD you're mainly taking classes, and may produce a capstone project, but you’re not likely to be creating high caliber research projects. Hence, an online option doesn’t give the university what they want, which is high quality work that represents the university well in academic standings.

However, some fields like education (e.g, Vanderbilt or Clemson) or public health (e.g., Johns Hopkins or UNC) offer online options. 

Be wary of online doctoral programs from for-profit institutions like Capella University or others that may offer a degree with little advantages for your post-PhD life.

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