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Living on a grad student stipend in San Francisco


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Hi All! As someone who currently has an interview at a Bay area PhD program and is waiting to hear from another, I was wondering how realistic it is to live in SF on a $36,000-37,000/yr stipend? I know it can be done, but how many sacrifices do you have to make to get by in a city where the housing prices are so high? Are you living comfortably or living in a basement with 10 roommates? Would appreciate any advice current graduate students could give!! Thank you in advance!! :)

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That's a very generous stipend for that area. I am not in the exact same area but I have lived fairly comfortably on less money at places with very similar cost of living. Your best bet is to talk to the students when you are interviewing though and find out!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Not a current student in SF, but I lived there for a while and it's my favorite city.

That is a very generous stipend, but it seems you already know how expensive the Bay is. Roommates are a must, of course, but SF housing tends to be TINY! So 2-3 people will be living in 750-1000 sq ft. 

Upside: no need for a car, so no car payment! The MUNI and Bart go just about everywhere. Very cosmopolitan. Weather doesn't drastically fluctuate. Access to a lot of industries, from fashion to medicine to technology. 

Downsides: most people eat out a lot because the kitchens are hella tiny. Housing tends not to have W/D, so you'll be paying for dry cleaning or coin ops. So many homes are older, so insulation isn't the greatest--which means high utilities (heat in the winter and AC in the summer).

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I haven't lived long term in SF, but I interviewed at UCSF and asked the grad students a ton of questions about housing. I learned that the lowest anyone pays per month with roommates is around $900 (at least in the neuro program) while most pay a bit over $1000 per month (also with roommates). It's very expensive. I will say that you'd be fine with 36,000-37,000 though. I make around that much and live in Boston paying similar rent. It's surprisingly doable. Most people I talked with were roommates with 2 or 3 other people, so in a 3 or 4 bedroom apt. 

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Recently in at a Bay Area school that's my #1 choice. I was told that they have a "solid" plan for supporting me but it'll be a while before I know what that means. I highly doubt getting a stipend, it'll probably be an assistantship ~24k (Okay I'm making this up.. total conjecture!)

 

What would you say would be the lowest amount you could live on. I currently live in the Midwest and literally can't fathom this cost of living.

Edited by JSnow
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21 minutes ago, JSnow said:

Recently in at a Bay Area school that's my #1 choice. I was told that they have a "solid" plan for supporting me but it'll be a while before I know what that means. I highly doubt getting a stipend, it'll probably be an assistantship ~24k (Okay I'm making this up.. total conjecture!)

 

What would you say would be the lowest amount you could live on. I currently live in the Midwest and literally can't fathom this cost of living.

Could always live in Oakland.

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I live in San Jose and have done so most of my life (undergrad and M.A. both in San Jose). There's no getting around the fact that this area is expensive, but there are ways to make it work. Cheapest for living is Gilroy, but it's a big commute to SF. However, riding the train every day would allow time for studying/working on things so that could work. Like everyone said, roommates and expecting to still pay $1000 or more a month is pretty much a universal truth here. Getting a commuter card is a better deal than a car, but you should consider how closely you live to your nearest train/bus station. Kitchen space in most apartments is small, but people also rent houses and some of them have decent kitchens, so it is possible to eat in depending on your living situation. 

A breakdown of costs is hard to do because of all the factors in play. I have friends living in Oakland who are able to manage on that (or less), but I don't know their exact finances. It's probably going to be difficult and you'll need to really manage your budget, but it is doable. 

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I lived in SF from 2009-2012 frugally on about $22k-$24k per year. My rent for most of that time was $750 with 1 roommate. The place was quite small but very nice. It was in the Outer Richmond, which is a nice residential area but not exactly centrally located. But, that was almost 5 years ago. I still have friends living there and rents throughout the city have basically doubled. You can probably make it work with the kind of stipend you have, but unless you're going to SF State, I would suggest that you don't bother. Commuting in and out of SF is a hassle unless you live next to a BART station and rents in the East Bay are significantly cheaper. I've been told by friends that the city has changed anyway because the people that made it an interesting place have been forced out by the rising costs.

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