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How to Tactfully Broach the Subject of the Need for More Funding?


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#1 Jack Kerouac

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 08:27 PM

Hello,

I am in the process of choosing between PhD programs, and I was hoping to get some advice on how to go about broaching the subject of the need for additional funding. I have four great choices so far, but the program I am most interested in offers the least funding of all of them. Without sounding demanding or ungrateful, how could I mention my financial concerns? And, would it be appropriate to mention my other offers?

I will be attending the university's (my top program's) Prospective Student Open House soon. Would it be best to speak to the director in person then? Or, should I wait until after the Open House? If I wait until after, should I address my concerns in writing via e-mail or with a phone call?

Thanks in advance for any advice you have to offer.

Edited by Jack Kerouac, 02 March 2012 - 08:42 PM.

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#2 CarlieE

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 09:03 PM

Perhaps the reason that their funding/package offered is low is because there are a lot of scholarships, fellowships etc that are offered by the department? Perhaps you could pose the query in such a way as to inquire if/what other kinds of alternate methods of funding are endorsed/suggested?
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#3 MarketingPhD2012

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 09:43 PM

Perhaps the reason that their funding/package offered is low is because there are a lot of scholarships, fellowships etc that are offered by the department? Perhaps you could pose the query in such a way as to inquire if/what other kinds of alternate methods of funding are endorsed/suggested?


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#4 splitends

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 03:14 AM

Really? I would think twice about taking that approach. I can't imagine that they didn't offer you more money because there are just so many other opportunities for you to get funding. They didn't offer you more money because they don't have enough money to offer you more money, or at least not enough to offer it all up front. I have yet to start the negotiating process, but I've been getting barraged with advice about it from current grad students. Generally, the advice goes like this:

Call the program and tell them that you'd really like to attend their program, but you don't have a lot of money and unfortunately funding has to be a factor in your final decision. Then you may want to tell them that you've been offered more from another school (don't necessarily have to be specific...), but you really would prefer to attend their program. Is there anything they can do? Of course, be polite, but don't be afraid to bring it up.

I'm told this is really standard practice.

I would get a second opinion on this from current graduate students in your specific field, but I've heard this a lot from successful grad students at my top ranked but increasingly broke undergrad university. Again, I'm not an expert, but it seems like asking what other sources of funding are available could easily sound like you're not going to try to negotiate the funding package you were offered.

One more thing: I know this is uncomfortable for a lot of people (the idea is extremely uncomfortable to me too), but I've read some interesting articles that suggest one important factor in the gender wage gap is that women are too uncomfortable to negotiate salaries or ask for raises, while men usually aren't. I don't know your gender or if that specifically applies to you, but in general I think a good takeaway message is that other people in your field are likely doing this, and that you may be contributing to your own marginalization by not asserting yourself just because it feels a little awkward.

Good luck.
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#5 juilletmercredi

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 04:00 AM

I second splitends' advice. It's unlikely that a department offered you a lower stipend because they expect you to compete for other scholarships/fellowships; if they wanted to include that in your package, they would've already. Usually your application also puts you in competition for fellowships, so if you had won one they would let you know.

I totally agree that you should call the school and gently negotiate. It's a real concern, but handling it exactly like splitends said will, worst case scenario, get you a "no." Which is fine; then you know that it's time to explore other options. But if you get a "yes," well then. That changes everything.
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#6 ANDS!

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 04:28 AM

Not all "low" offers are low; you need to take into account the cost of living of where you are being accepted. You're not going to get New York cash if you're accepted in the Mid West.
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#7 Eigen

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 01:05 PM

Following up on what ANDSI asked, is the funding low in the sense of being really hard to make ends meet in that area? Or is it just low compared to your other offers?
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#8 CarlieE

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 04:13 PM

It's unlikely that a department offered you a lower stipend because they expect you to compete for other scholarships/fellowships; if they wanted to include that in your package, they would've already.


I disagree... in the MA program at my uni, there is not much funding from the department itself, however, because we our Southeast Asian dept is a National Resource Center, there's a lot of funding available which is much better - but it is competitive. For instance, the FLAS that is offered gives a stipend AND tuition waiver, however, the dept stipend and waiver is less than HALF what the FLAS offers. But the student must apply for the FLAS separately.

When I applied to U of Wi for their anth PhD program, I was advised to apply for THEIR FLAS scholarship (since they are an NRC too) to boost the financial aid that the anth dept would be offering. The Uni of Chicago also suggested applying for a FLAS but their language program didn't include one I would be eligible for...

I do think it's OK to negotiate... but I think here, it's a question of how to approach it.. You don't want to come off greedy, nor do you want to be too subtle.. I would not recommend saying I got more money elsewhere (especially if I didn't) since it might make you come off that the funding, rather than the academic facilities are driving your final decision.

At my interview, I simply asked: Aside from the funding offered, are their other opportunities for funding? For research? etc.

And in fact, I have learned, there are emergency loans and other such things offered by the university, but not the department to help defray moving costs etc - that is, living costs NOT related to research or academics.

Edited by anthroDork, 03 March 2012 - 04:23 PM.

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#9 splitends

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 05:59 PM

Again, I would double check with people in your field, but I'm told over and over again both by current graduate students, McNair advisors, professors, etc, (again, all from top ranked universities) that negotiating is really standard. It doesn't make you look greedy. At least, if you're not totally clumsy or rude about it, it shouldn't make you look greedy. Most grad students are offered near poverty level salaries, so if you already have student loan debt, are supporting dependents, etc, it's completely reasonable to want to try for more. And it's also totally reasonable to factor funding into your decision, especially when you're deciding between two or more otherwise similarly appealing programs.

And of course no one is implying that there aren't going to be other opportunities to compete for funding-- it's just a little silly to say that the reason they didn't offer you a bigger funding package is because there are so many other options for funding. That fact just seems so straightforward that I'm not sure how to defend it. I mean, anecdotally, the wealthiest schools that accepted me (who have the most options for additional funding inside the university itself and great records of students getting NSF grants and etc) are offering me substantially more generous funding packages than the top notch but increasingly broke public universities that accepted me (whose grant opportunities inside the university are drying up along with everything else). See what I mean? If they had the money, they're likely to spend it. If they're not spending it, it's probably because they don't have the money.

Of course you should apply for outside money whenever and wherever you can, but you can't guarantee you will get competitive sources of funding, so it's totally reasonable and acceptable to ask for more funding from your department. I don't know-- is there a current grad student out there that can back me up on any of this, or have I just been steadily misinformed?
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#10 cyberwulf

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Posted 03 March 2012 - 09:12 PM

This thread has made me really curious.

In my field, negotiating a funding package is unheard-of. Given that salary levels are often fixed by the grad school/university, how do departments have the flexibility to offer more money if you ask nicely? Are they just pulling a lump sum out of some slush fund and spreading it out over the duration of your studies?
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#11 dgh204

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 01:19 AM

For one of the masters programs I applied to, the Grad Director told me when I went to visit in August how comparable programs did not fund, and how their program would charge at most no more than ten grand a year (despite the fact that the sticker price for this private university is much, much higher). I was sold.

I received my acceptance last week, to see that it would cost me a little over thirteen grand a year, thus the 3 year program comes in over forty grand, without even considering living expenses. No longer such a bargain.

Since it was my top choice program, I freaked out quite a bit, and went searching on the school's website for jobs. Turns out there was still time to apply for a Graduate Hall Director position. While not my dream job, it will provide free housing, utilities, laundry, parking pass, food stipend. Not sure if I will get it, but at least that will mean less loans.

However, catch-22, I cannot apply unless I accept the offer for admission from said school. So, I emailed my contact and explained that while I was excited about their offer, I have to weigh my funding choices. I asked if there was a possibility of more funding in future years. I also explained the GHD job, and said that I would like to apply, but that I wanted them to know, my acceptance of their offer was on the condition that more $ would be coming, if not, I would rescind before the 15th.

I got a very quick note back, saying I would hear more substantially from her when she returns from being out of town, but that they really want me to come (exclamation point), and she cc'd it to the other 3 main faculty members in the department.

Now I am just anxiously checking my email every five seconds...but, I figure if I really want this program, and they really want me, I would regret it if I did not try.

Edited by dgh204, 05 March 2012 - 01:20 AM.

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#12 electrochoc

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 02:34 AM

This thread has made me really curious.

In my field, negotiating a funding package is unheard-of. Given that salary levels are often fixed by the grad school/university, how do departments have the flexibility to offer more money if you ask nicely? Are they just pulling a lump sum out of some slush fund and spreading it out over the duration of your studies?


I think some grad schools are betting with this whole process. Many don't offer you their highest offer from the beginning. If you take it right away, good for them. But if you are a top applicant and have some other good offers on the table, it is not unheard of to use them as leverage (many POIs actually advise you to do that) in order to get some more monies. However, if you don't have a lot of leverage, then it's more of a "please take a look and see if you have a bit more to spare" and it can work too.
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#13 ANDS!

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 06:27 AM

If a funding offer isn't going to leave a person destitute, do you really want to be "that guy". Obviously more money is nice, but one has to prioritize.
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#14 Eigen

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 03:50 PM

I'll also add one other factor to consider: If you ask for more funding, it will get around to the department as a whole. And you will probably be thought of as "that guy", as mentioned.

If you really can't live decently on what they're offering, then sure, say that. Otherwise, tread carefully.
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#15 dgh204

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 01:16 AM

I just heard back from the Grad Director at my aforementioned school, and they said after I accept (which I just did), they will lobby for more funding. She also said that they understood that I would rescind my acceptance if it didn't come through.

So, while I have yet to decide that this is the best fit for me, I figured my best option was to accept and see what more $ might come my way.

Thus, my feeling is, it can't hurt to ask.
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#16 fanon_fanatic

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 05:57 PM

@Jack Kerouac, I agree with @splitends, the general knowledge in most humanities disciplines is that you can leverage well-funded offers to hopefully increase offers at other schools. I don't know about the sciences, but in the humanities where we get less love than the sciences, leveraging offers is a common and (in my opinion) often necessary strategy as a graduate student who needs to make ends meet. Especially if financial concerns could make or break whether you finish the program!

I have friends who've done this, professors who have showed me how to do it, and it's a strategy I'll use if it turns out that I'll need to do so. Even for programs that aren't well-funded, if they want you, they will find the money. Seriously. A friend of mine at a state school in a program with few funds leveraged her offer from a private school to get money from the state program, which was really where she wanted to attend. She's now happy and fully funded.

If a program is really interested in you, they will find the money. And while cost-of-living is one consideration, keep in mind that fellowships generally fund at a higher level than teaching assistantships no matter where you live. Also, be clear about the cost-of-living difference. Sometimes schools in lower cost-of-living areas try to say that their offers are lower because of the lower cost-of-living, but that isn't actually always the case. Sometimes that's just their excuse for low offers. One of the state schools I'm looking at in a low-cost of living area offered me a fellowship that exceeds the fellowship in a higher cost-of-living private school. Make sure you take the time to find a cost-of-living calculator, or go on Craigslist and check out the median housing costs on their listings. Especially with cost of living, there are a million calculators on the web to compare two different places. Also make sure you understand if your tuition is waived, or if you're being offered tuition assistance. The former is most desirable, as the latter is taxable and goes on your W-2 as earned income. These are all things you have to consider as you look at your financial situation (which, as graduate students, already sucks! :) ).

My point is, if they want you, they will find the money. They may not always be able to match your very best offer, but they'll make whatever efforts they can to make their offer comparable. The key is that you want to negotiate only with the one program that, all other things being equal, money is really the only thing keeping you from saying "Yes! I'm will attend!" If that's your situation, then put on your negotiator hat and write a kind, respectful, carefully worded email like @splitends laid out. I would do this before the Prospective Student's Weekend, as it will take the stress away from your visit and let you focus on whether or not the program is the right fit for you. Also, I like to have these conversations in writing in case down the road there's ever any questions about what was agreed upon. You are well within established norms to negotiate as someone in English, and in the humanities more broadly. Good luck!!
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#17 cyberwulf

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 06:51 PM

@fanon_fanatic, thanks for the informative post. I didn't realize this negotiation procedure was so commonplace in the humanities. Guess it's yet another area where your grad school application experience can depend heavily on your chosen discipline!
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#18 rising_star

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Posted 14 March 2012 - 04:54 AM

I think some grad schools are betting with this whole process. Many don't offer you their highest offer from the beginning. If you take it right away, good for them. But if you are a top applicant and have some other good offers on the table, it is not unheard of to use them as leverage (many POIs actually advise you to do that) in order to get some more monies. However, if you don't have a lot of leverage, then it's more of a "please take a look and see if you have a bit more to spare" and it can work too.


I don't really know of any schools that do it that way. In fact, why would they if it means they risk losing out on their top applicants? In my department, all incoming students get the same offer. You can ask for more money but they always say no. And yes, that's the case even if you tell them that you're being offered more money elsewhere. They want everyone to be paid the same to eliminate that potential source of contention amongst the grad students.

If a program is really interested in you, they will find the money.
...
My point is, if they want you, they will find the money. They may not always be able to match your very best offer, but they'll make whatever efforts they can to make their offer comparable.


Like I said, none of this works in my department or, for the most part, in my discipline. Our department wants its top applicants but, they can't and don't throw extra money at them to get them to attend. They don't match offers, they don't have other sources on campus they can hit up for an extra $1K for incoming students or anything like that.

So, while it's nice to negotiate and whatever else, be prepared for it not to matter at all in some cases. And, be prepared to have to make a decision between more money and better fit or more money and better POI. In the end, I turned down offers that paid more and required less work because it's more about the advisor than anything else. The money is just a way to get yourself sidetracked from that.

P.S. I find it interesting that the topic of negotiating offers has come up far more frequently this year (anecdotally, because I didn't run stats on it) than it has in years past. Perhaps ironically, it keeps cropping up in various subforums on the site and the answers are basically the same each time. Thus far, I haven't really seen anyone proclaiming success from their negotiations...
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#19 wine in coffee cups

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Posted 14 March 2012 - 03:33 PM

Like I said, none of this works in my department or, for the most part, in my discipline. Our department wants its top applicants but, they can't and don't throw extra money at them to get them to attend. They don't match offers, they don't have other sources on campus they can hit up for an extra $1K for incoming students or anything like that.

I agree with your overall point that negotiating funding is not likely to be all that fruitful, but I'm a little surprised you don't think there is extra funding for top applicants generally? It may just vary from institution to institution, but at least several of the graduate schools I've gotten into seem to have some kind of supplemental funds under a "Dean's Fellowship" (or named something to that effect). The way these appear to work is that particular applicants are nominated by the departments for the fellowship but the graduate school itself makes the decision and the award. I've been lucky enough to have a few of these thrown my way (some coming with the initial offer, some later) and from what I'm seeing, the award amounts to an extra few thousand dollars per year and the language accompanying the letters is way over-the-top in flattery. I think it's really hard to know if you'll be in a position to be nominated for one of these, but it's not out of the question for something like this to come the way of a top applicant who hasn't made up their mind yet.
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#20 DeeLovely79

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Posted 14 March 2012 - 08:10 PM

I have to agree with fannon, sipe, juliet and splitends. I am currently in the process of considering two offers, I spoke School #1 and they literally asked me "What do we have to do to get you here?" I gave them the details of my offer at School #2 and they are working on finding funds to guarantee me the same level of multi-year support that School #1 is offering.

Furthermore they are looking into guaranteeing additional funding if I don't receive the fellowship I was nominated for. I don't know how this is going to end up but it doesn't hurt to go to your top school and discuss your concerns about funding. If don't have it they will tell you and you've lost nothing by asking (tactfully ofcourse).

I do feel that a lot of people are tight lipped about this type of thing because you don't know what others in your cohort are being offered and 1) you don't want to people to have reason to dislike you and 2)you don't want to cause issues in your department. Programs are competitive enough regarding grades, awards and external funding, I think that discussing internal funding can really intensify things.

Edited by DeeLovely79, 14 March 2012 - 08:11 PM.

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