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Is it possible to live off a stipend?

MaioliMaioli Posts: 25Registered User New Member
edited February 2008 in Graduate School
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I have received so much contradictory information on this topic that I would like to see it discussed in a single place. What is more common: for PhD stipends to be enough for living, or to be insufficient?

I know there are many variables involved: the actual amount, lifestyle of the student, location... In the end, however, it may be enlightening to know whether the majority of PhD students can or cannot live without an additional source of income.
Post edited by Maioli on

Replies to: Is it possible to live off a stipend?

  • HeliosphanHeliosphan Posts: 31Registered User Junior Member
    It depends on the stipend, your own lifestyle, the standard of living where your school is and whatever debts/responsibilities you've got when you're entering into the program.

    I'm a single guy in my early 20s (no kids, no wife) and I live in a major metropolitan city. On top of all this I've got a student loan and credit card debt to pay off. So while it's an expensive to place to live and I've got some extra bills to pay, a ~20-25K stipend is enough for me to live on personally without falling in a completely destitute existence lol.

    For someone with kids, married or some other type of major responsibility, HUGE loans/debts, or in an expensive city/neighborhood it becomes harder.

    Really, each situation is different.
  • New_UserNew_User Posts: 222Registered User Junior Member
    Hi Maioli,

    I fully plan to live only off my stipend, however that is also going to help determine where I go. If you need help, try a cost of living calculator like Cost of Living - Cost of Living Calculator from CNNMoney . As an example, based on that website, for a school in San Francisco to be comparable to a $26,000 stipend in Durham, NC they would have to offer $49,508.
    That said, I think a $26k stipend is easily livable somewhere like Durham or St. Louis. That equates to roughly $2,000 per month after taxes. Figure out what your monthly expenses would be in each town (you can ask other grad students living there for estimates on rent, utilities, gas, groceries, etc) and see if you could get by for that much. I know that is vague, but as you said, there are many variables involved.

    The short answer then is that I took out loans for my masters, I refuse to do so for my PhD. I do not see that as being at all impossible.
  • MaioliMaioli Posts: 25Registered User New Member
    Would you say a stipend below $20k would be insufficient in most regions then?

    I tried to use the calculator above, but it seems to make more sense for US residents. I am an international student, so I have no comparable original costs. Thanks, anyway.
  • zebeszebes Posts: 1,326Registered User Senior Member
    It also depends a great deal on the field of study, or at least it used to. My H was an Engineering grad student at Purdue, I was in the Education/Biology department -- an interdisciplinary program as a grad student. We were paid significantly different stipends. Obviously, he made better money. And, on top of that, I had greater responsiblities to obtain my stipend than he did. At first I was a Teaching Assistant (T.A.), teaching undergrad bio sections. Then I became a research assistant for my major professor. My H pretty much worked as an R.A. for the whole time, but most of his time was spent on his own research for his Ph.D. BTW, he was able to live solely on his stipend. I, however, needed a student loan, and we are both extremely frugal people. We never put debt on a credit card ... if that helps define how we live.

    zebes
  • New_UserNew_User Posts: 222Registered User Junior Member
    I choose schools when I applied that specifically offered at least $23-25k. I know PhD students at the school I am getting my Master's at only make $18k, and most of them struggle, but I think they still get by for the most part (Just on more ramen, less going out, etc).

    The calculator was more to help you determine the relative costs of living between two US schools you may be looking at. So if you are trying to choose between a school in New York vs a school in Chicago, put the stipend offered at Chicago in as your salary then tell it you are moving from Chicago to New York and see what the stipend would need to be in New York to essentially match the funds offered by Chicago. Hope that makes sense and helps some.
  • Professor XProfessor X Posts: 893Registered User Member
    As zebes is pointing out, stipends vary widely according to field. Without knowing your field, and without knowing in what city you will live, there's no way to really answer your question.

    Bottom line: Humanities/arts = minuscule stipend. Most stipends will be well below 20K. This is why some PhD students take out relatively small loans ($2500 annually, perhaps) to make ends meet.

    Sciences = hefty (comparatively) stipend. It is rather rare for doctoral students in the sciences to take out loans.
  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Posts: 6,598Registered User Senior Member
    I could swear while reading through my various stipend offers (in engineering) they also mandated that I also not work a second job while they're funding me.

    Lowest stipend I remember seeing was around $24k at Carnegie Mellon (plenty of money for Pittsburgh), and the most I saw was $30k at Cornell (way more than enough). One of my friends that got into MIT said they only offered around $19k, which is ridiculously low for Boston. As it is now, I'm getting around $26.5k from Caltech where I'm still able to save a few hundred dollars a month. Just wish they had a 401k type program here for grad students. :(
  • MaioliMaioli Posts: 25Registered User New Member
    The calculator was more to help you determine the relative costs of living between two US schools you may be looking at.

    Okay, now I got it. Yes, I think it will be useful to compare offers. :)

    Answering Professor X's implied question, my field is English (so, "minuscule stipend" :(), and I am applying to several schools, most of them on the East Coast.
  • molliebatmitmolliebatmit Posts: 12,250Super Moderator Senior Member
    My husband and I lived together off my stipend last year (so ~14k apiece, in Boston), and we managed to put money away for savings, too. Granted, we were living in a really, really small apartment and cooking for ourselves every night, but we survived.
  • momof3sonsmomof3sons Posts: 4,842Registered User Senior Member
    Maioli,
    My son is living off a $19,000 stipend in Chicago and seems to be doing fine. He gets out to movies, dinner with friends periodically, too.
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