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CivilTwilight

Can you really get funding for a MS?

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Hi, like I posted a few months ago I am still investigating going to graduate school for mechanical engineering . . . I've talked to a couple professors and because of my GPA problems (under 3.0) that I should probably stick to MS programs. I keep hearing people say that you shouldn't go to engineering graduate school unless you have funding (by "funding" I am including TA/RAship here), but I ALSO keep hearing that getting funding for a Masters is almost impossible. Which is it? If it matters, I'd be looking at the thesis-option Masters. 

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I applied to 8 programs, all of which were fully funded. I ended up accepting at a school with RA funding (students without grants had the opportunity for TA funding). Before reaching out to POIs, I contacted the schools and asked what the funding situation was for MS students. 

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1 hour ago, cobalt27 said:

I applied to 8 programs, all of which were fully funded. I ended up accepting at a school with RA funding (students without grants had the opportunity for TA funding). Before reaching out to POIs, I contacted the schools and asked what the funding situation was for MS students. 

Thank you, that is good to hear (although you are not in engineering). That is a good idea to reach out to schools and ask how funding works for MS students.

Do you mind if I ask how strong your app was? Did you have a good uGPA? One of my problems is that my cumulative uGPA is just under 3.0. I don't know if it will be possible to get any financial help with that kind of background.

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To answer your question, generally when people say you shouldn't go to engineering grad school if you aren't funded, it is directed towards PhD. There are very few engineering masters programs that are funded. Generally people will pay for their masters. since the increase in salary with a MS usually offsets the cost of the MS. Usually the funded MS programs will be just as competitive as PhD. It is not unheard of though to have masters students TA classes, but the probability of this happening depends on the program and priority is usually given to PhD students. The way I'd interpret the professors' suggestion is that you should use the MS as a stepping stone to overcome your GPA - with the understanding that you will likely be paying for this opportunity.

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Full funding for MS degrees, especially in Engineering is pretty rare. By "full funding", I mean they will provide enough money to pay for tuition (or a tuition waiver) and also pay you a livable stipend (i.e. PhD-like funding levels). Usually in return, you work as a TA or RA (just like PhD students). There are more programs that provide partial funding (i.e. you have a partial TA or RA ship so it might cover some costs or maybe just tuition but no salary).

It's up to you to decide whether this is worth it. Usually, the main reason to pay out of pocket for a MS in engineering is because you want to upgrade your credentials so that you qualify for better jobs or for a promotion. Sometimes people do this when they already have a job and steady income. Some people do this prior to getting a job, taking a risk to improve their credentials.

I think paying out of pocket for a MS program in order to qualify for PhD programs is a higher risk. I would say that a PhD program itself is already a risky move because you are not guaranteed to get what you want at the end of the PhD. So, this is an added level of risk. I would evaluate my post-PhD career goals and if a PhD is absolutely necessary in order to do what I want, then the risks may be worth it. You should quantify the total costs to you (for a potentially unfunded MS and typical funding levels of a PhD, plus chances of getting into a PhD program that will allow you to achieve your goals). If you think you are able to achieve what you want, then determine how much risk/time/cost etc. you want to spend towards this. Then, find MS programs that fit within these cost constraints. 

I'd second the advice to contact programs directly and ask about funding levels and how often students are funded. Also ask about how funding is awarded---if it's on the basis of GPA then you might have a harder time securing that. If it's holistic like PhD applications, then you may have a chance. I say that funding is rare but it's certainly possible to only apply to programs that provide a chance at partial or full funding. There are a large number of programs in the country so even if only a small fraction provide funding, it's enough to fill your applications. You just need to spend extra time finding these programs.

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23 hours ago, CivilTwilight said:

Thank you, that is good to hear (although you are not in engineering). That is a good idea to reach out to schools and ask how funding works for MS students.

Do you mind if I ask how strong your app was? Did you have a good uGPA? One of my problems is that my cumulative uGPA is just under 3.0. I don't know if it will be possible to get any financial help with that kind of background.

My cGPA was 3.39 - not terrible but not stellar either. Earth sciences may be different from engineering, but my experience was that it was more of a holistic process. I had strong LORs from professors and supervisors in industry, and I heard positive feedback regarding those during my interviews.

I started looking early, which helped - you still have time to make calls to departments and ask about funding. There were a few schools I contacted who told me they really only offer funding to PhDs - I crossed those off the list and moved on. 

Edited by cobalt27

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Thanks everyone! That certainly helps put my expectations in check a bit. I guess I'll have to look into how financial aid works again. I was actually really lucky in that a program in my state covered almost all of my BS costs so I only have a tiny amount of school debt. So even if I have to pay for the MS I at least won't be piling on top of BS debt too.

14 hours ago, TakeruK said:

It's up to you to decide whether this is worth it. Usually, the main reason to pay out of pocket for a MS in engineering is because you want to upgrade your credentials so that you qualify for better jobs or for a promotion. Sometimes people do this when they already have a job and steady income. Some people do this prior to getting a job, taking a risk to improve their credentials.

I think paying out of pocket for a MS program in order to qualify for PhD programs is a higher risk. I would say that a PhD program itself is already a risky move because you are not guaranteed to get what you want at the end of the PhD. So, this is an added level of risk. I would evaluate my post-PhD career goals and if a PhD is absolutely necessary in order to do what I want, then the risks may be worth it. You should quantify the total costs to you (for a potentially unfunded MS and typical funding levels of a PhD, plus chances of getting into a PhD program that will allow you to achieve your goals). If you think you are able to achieve what you want, then determine how much risk/time/cost etc. you want to spend towards this. Then, find MS programs that fit within these cost constraints.

Thank you, that's a good point. Honestly I'm not quite sure yet if MS will be enough or if I'll need a PhD. Based on my research it seems to vary a lot based on the particular company/shop/lab/etc. What I want to do is work in research, and not just doing grunt-level work. I could maybe get there by landing the right job and getting the right number of years of experience but it seems like just going back to school will be a lot more efficient in terms of time and effort (maybe not money-wise but the MS does give a pay bump so maybe it's a wash). 

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My MS is funded. The first semester was TA w/o tuition covered, but after that I moved to RA which covers tuition fees and stipend. At my school I am probably in the minority, though, as I am attached to a research institute. A lot of it depends on who you work under, and if they have grants/funding/projects that need and can support you.

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18 hours ago, CivilTwilight said:

Thanks everyone! That certainly helps put my expectations in check a bit. I guess I'll have to look into how financial aid works again. I was actually really lucky in that a program in my state covered almost all of my BS costs so I only have a tiny amount of school debt. So even if I have to pay for the MS I at least won't be piling on top of BS debt too.

Thank you, that's a good point. Honestly I'm not quite sure yet if MS will be enough or if I'll need a PhD. Based on my research it seems to vary a lot based on the particular company/shop/lab/etc. What I want to do is work in research, and not just doing grunt-level work. I could maybe get there by landing the right job and getting the right number of years of experience but it seems like just going back to school will be a lot more efficient in terms of time and effort (maybe not money-wise but the MS does give a pay bump so maybe it's a wash). 

One more point I would add (and something you may already be doing) is the value of informational interviews. I found these extremely helpful in my decision to apply for an MS. I was lucky enough to have a few personal connections who kindly provided me with contact information of individuals currently working in positions I am interested in pursuing after grad school, but LinkedIn is also a good resource for cold contacting people. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, and I found people happy to help out the "next generation" of people in the field with a short phone call. 

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While I don't know the ins and outs of private sector labs. if by research you mean anything funded by an R1--and you want to be a shot caller--you will probably need the PhD, but you can feel out the options as you proceed through your MS....

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In my case, I was funded by an outside company for which I interned/worked part-time while studying for my degree. They basically paid for my tuition + rent + stipend for food and supplies and such. Everyone I know of who got some kind of sponsorship/funding for their master's degree got it through some outside company, either because they sought them out or because they were already working and the company for which they worked had these programs in place.

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