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How much does not requiring funding help me?


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I'm an international student studying physics in a well known US public school. I have a pretty competitive application (3.8 GPA, double major in applied math, all As in my phys/math classes, research experience, etc) and am planning on applying to Stanford/Caltech/MIT/UCSB/UC Berkeley. The government of my home country is offering me a scholarship to attend grad school in the US (all expenses paid, I won't cost grad schools a penny). Does this significantly help my application? For context I'm planning on applying to High Energy physics (theory) which is known for its cutthroat competition. 

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This will depend on the school so it's a bit hard to say, but I can tell you that at least for the schools I've studied or taught at, it wouldn't have made any difference. Applications are reviewed on merit and independently of any funding issues. The only way I can see it helping is if you were borderline or on a waitlist (so independently judged as good enough), in which case I can imagine this pushing you over the line. But for any strong school, I think what will really matter is your application. 

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I'd echo what fuzzy said. Students cost more than the cost of their funding---they require time for teaching, mentoring, etc. And you will still pose a financial cost for things like research travel, publication page charges, etc.

Having funding would still be a plus though since you will be way cheaper to any department/advisor, leaving them with more money to spend on you in other ways (see above) and potentially means more research freedom since your project may not have to fall specifically within a grant.

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