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riadamexicana

"Good" funding/support

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Hi All,

 

I've recently been admitted to two of my top choices for Philosophy PhD programs.  Both programs have offered me tuition reimbursement, a TAship, medical coverage, and a scholarship/funding, but I'm having a hard time figuring out which of these universities is offering me a financially "better" deal.  I understand that the standard of living will vary region to region and that different schools have different resources, but is there a "standard" number against which I could be judging my options?  Any advice (or personal experiences) would be greatly appreciated!

 

Thanks.

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Congrats! You can look on best places to see estimates of costs of living.  It seems a standard number (adjusted for cost of living) would be around 18k, with some being higher (fellowships help) and some being lower.  For instance, a school in the North East offered me 22k while a school in the Midwest (small city) offered 15k. But by cost of living, they average out to be very close.

Edited by MKEPhil

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I have done a good bit of cost of living research, and it seems that most variation from one location to another on all the calculators online is a result of the cost of housing. This becomes important if you are interested in a variety of neighborhoods or more non-traditional living situations, like shared houses, since their cost can vary greatly as compared to studio apartments or standard 1- or 2-bedroom apartments. I would suggest going on Craigslist and looking at actual rooms that are available to see what the spread is. For example, in DC you could pay $500 for a room or you could pay $1500, but the cost of living calculator assumes the high number.

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What I did was create a spreadsheet to help me properly compare numbers. You could use the online "cost of living" calculators, but I feel like the factors that they give might be some overall average that doesn't really affect the day-to-day life of a grad student (e.g. if we don't have cars or own property, we might not care about fuel costs, insurance or property taxes etc.).

 

So, what I did was make a column for each school and start with the post-tuition stipend amount (since it's likely that they will deduct the tuition before you even take it home). Then, I researched how much fees you would have to pay, if any. For example, health insurance is a big variable -- at some schools, it's fully covered as part of the RAship, at others, it's just heavily subsidized. For me, I had to factor in the cost of dependent health insurance too and that really varied wildly from school to school. I also made an estimate of how much out-of-pocket expenses I should expect (but this is probably pretty small) since different health plans have different coverage and co-pays (one plan doesn't even cover prescription drugs at all and they can be quite costly!)

 

Next, I subtracted the biggest cost, which is housing. Figure out what kind of place you would want to live in and then use something like padmapper to get an overall feel for how much you would expect to pay per month. Like crate says, this is the biggest factor in cost of living, especially for most grad students. If you really just want to quickly compare stipends, I would just compare the "take home stipend" minus "cost of housing" values for each school. But you can include small factors like fees above, or other things like cost of food -- however, unless you are considering e.g. Hawaii or Alaska, I don't think the cost of food will vary significantly (variation is probably less than $1000 per year between most places in the US).

 

Finally, it might be worth it to factor in how much you plan to visit family etc. If you live far from a hub city airport, it can be quite costly to get to the airport!

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This reminds me of a PhD student at Duquesne from the Boston area complaining about the low stipend ($17,500), when Boston College was $20,000.  Yeah, I think Pittsburgh dollars might be worth a lot more than Boston dollars...

 

Cost of living numbers definitely assume a lot about how you want to live, though, as others have said.  Sometimes, the rental market can vary significantly between otherwise similar cities.  For example, Morgantown (home of West Virginia University) is pretty cheap in general and has good cost of living numbers, but the rental cost is pretty high.  Most places are $400-500 minimum (and they can quickly get much higher), except for the crappiest of places, which are still $350 or so.  Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are actually slightly more expensive elsewhere, but it's not difficult to get a decent place for $350 or so (Or even lower. I paid $250 my senior year of college for a great place in Cincinnati).  By the way, all these rental experiences involve living with other people, just before anyone thinks, "Wow, you only paid that much for a one-bedroom apartment?!"

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Rent is probably the biggest financial obligation, outside of school related fees, that you'll be faced with.  Rather than rely on cost of living estimates based on who-knows-what on some random website, I suggest you take a peek at the City Guide forum on gradcafe, and also to simply use padmapper.com to look at the available apartments currently for rent in the areas you might want to live.

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One thing to take into account: Do any of the schools you have offers from provide the option of getting funding during the summer?

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Thanks for the useful feedback, everyone!

 

So, assuming that you are offered between 15-20k of support (comprised of scholarships and TAships), is it assumed that the PhD candidate will be able to subside off of that funding?  Given the cost of living, that seems highly improbably.  Are you expected to dig into savings, take out additional loans, and/or take on part-time work to account for further living expenses?  Have you found that working during the summers can supplement your funding adequately?  Basically, I'm trying to calculate how much debt I'll be walking away with!

 

I think living in NYC is skewing my perception of how much this is going to cost me (where I spend about 29,000 a year on living alone)!

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Thanks for the useful feedback, everyone!

 

So, assuming that you are offered between 15-20k of support (comprised of scholarships and TAships), is it assumed that the PhD candidate will be able to subside off of that funding?  Given the cost of living, that seems highly improbably.  Are you expected to dig into savings, take out additional loans, and/or take on part-time work to account for further living expenses?  Have you found that working during the summers can supplement your funding adequately?  Basically, I'm trying to calculate how much debt I'll be walking away with!

 

I think living in NYC is skewing my perception of how much this is going to cost me (where I spend about 29,000 a year on living alone)!

yeah, it really does depend on where your school is.  I've been living off about 15k a year, and that is with 3 kids and a 3 bedroom apt.  but I'm at West Virginia University which makes a big difference.  Just look at the cost of living where your schools are, look at rent especially, and your transportation.  

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This reminds me of a PhD student at Duquesne from the Boston area complaining about the low stipend ($17,500), when Boston College was $20,000.  Yeah, I think Pittsburgh dollars might be worth a lot more than Boston dollars...

 

Cost of living numbers definitely assume a lot about how you want to live, though, as others have said.  Sometimes, the rental market can vary significantly between otherwise similar cities.  For example, Morgantown (home of West Virginia University) is pretty cheap in general and has good cost of living numbers, but the rental cost is pretty high.  Most places are $400-500 minimum (and they can quickly get much higher), except for the crappiest of places, which are still $350 or so.  Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are actually slightly more expensive elsewhere, but it's not difficult to get a decent place for $350 or so (Or even lower. I paid $250 my senior year of college for a great place in Cincinnati).  By the way, all these rental experiences involve living with other people, just before anyone thinks, "Wow, you only paid that much for a one-bedroom apartment?!"

I just saw this after i made my last post. That's a weird coincidence since almost no one knows about Morgantown. I still think rent is cheap here.  Plus, a HUGE factor is how much of your utilities are included.  My place now is 750, with 2/3 bedrooms and all utilities are included.  I think that is amazingly cheap.  The last place I lived at was also 750, but the utilities were 300+ a month.

 Are you at WV State? My dad is a History prof. there. yay

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Thanks for the useful feedback, everyone!

 

So, assuming that you are offered between 15-20k of support (comprised of scholarships and TAships), is it assumed that the PhD candidate will be able to subside off of that funding?  Given the cost of living, that seems highly improbably.  Are you expected to dig into savings, take out additional loans, and/or take on part-time work to account for further living expenses?  Have you found that working during the summers can supplement your funding adequately?  Basically, I'm trying to calculate how much debt I'll be walking away with!

 

I think living in NYC is skewing my perception of how much this is going to cost me (where I spend about 29,000 a year on living alone)!

My wife and I are living on about 24k in a rather nice apartment in Milwaukee.  A single person could easily make it on 15, especially without a car.  We only need loans to pay for her schooling.  I think that in many areas, you can live off that stipend, especially if you can find another grad student to split rent.

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Ask the DGS to put you in touch with other current grad students. That's what I've done, and they give you the most relevant information since they are in a similar situation vs. the other factors involved in cost-of-living averages. They can tell you what to expect if you want to live close to campus, if there is grad student housing on campus, or if it's cheaper to commute from a few miles away. Most importantly, they cut through the fluff and tell you what the "take-home" will be. Most schools have about ~1K in fees and health insurance varies by school. 

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Thanks for the useful feedback, everyone!

 

So, assuming that you are offered between 15-20k of support (comprised of scholarships and TAships), is it assumed that the PhD candidate will be able to subside off of that funding?  Given the cost of living, that seems highly improbably.  Are you expected to dig into savings, take out additional loans, and/or take on part-time work to account for further living expenses?  Have you found that working during the summers can supplement your funding adequately?  Basically, I'm trying to calculate how much debt I'll be walking away with!

 

I think living in NYC is skewing my perception of how much this is going to cost me (where I spend about 29,000 a year on living alone)!

I think NYC is really, really skewing your perception. I mean, I don't know what cities these are in and I don't know anything about your lifestyle, but I've lived off a LOT less than 15k. Unless you're a big spender or want to pay outrageous rent, you should be fine. But like others have said, ask current students.

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I think NYC is really, really skewing your perception. I mean, I don't know what cities these are in and I don't know anything about your lifestyle, but I've lived off a LOT less than 15k. Unless you're a big spender or want to pay outrageous rent, you should be fine. But like others have said, ask current students.

 

Well, that's somewhat comforting.  But nope, I'm extremely frugal and my friends are generally shocked that I am able to survive in NYC given my budget.  One of the areas I'm considering for grad school is outside of DC--where the rent is supposed to be comparable to that of NYC--hence my concern.  Granted, I'd like to be able to upgrade from having roommates to a studio or small one-bedroom, so I expect that will cost me.

 

I'll certainly be asking around when I visit with departments over the next two weeks!  Again, thanks for all of the advice.

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