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How do you pay for grad school in the humanities?

raideraderaiderade Posts: 2,499- Senior Member
edited February 2011 in Parents Forum
Say you are a Classics major from Cornell. You graduate from undergrad, fortunately, with no debt but also no cash surplus. You need to go to graduate school in order to become employable. But, unlike with the sciences you can't get great RA and TA positions to cover everything. How do people pay?
Post edited by raiderade on

Replies to: How do you pay for grad school in the humanities?

  • jinglejingle Posts: 1,198Registered User Senior Member
    If you are a desirable applicant to a PhD program in the humanities, you will generally be offered a fellowship package. Normally it includes at least a tuition waiver, and often a stipend for living expenses as well.

    The first-year award may not be what you will be receiving all the way along: once you are accepted, you should check into each department's policies, as they differ from institution to institution, and often from department to department within an institution. (And check with enrolled students, too; often the real policy varies considerably from what's on the books.) Many programs do not allow first-year students to teach, so these programs must pay their living stipends without receiving any services in return; starting in the second year, students will be teaching and thus receiving pay as teaching assistants. This pay is normally at least as, and usually more, generous than the "free money" you'd been getting the first year. Other programs will adjust their level of support depending upon how you are doing in the program. A few programs give generous first-year support as a means of recruitment and then yank it away in the second and following years, after you are committed: a policy I believe is unethical. You do not want to accept a generous award in the first year and then find it taken away in subsequent years.

    Stipends tend not to be generous, so some students end up borrowing money. This is not a good idea! Go to the best program you can attend that offers you full or almost full support, and learn how to live frugally. Jobs are hard to find in classics, or in any of the humanities, and you absolutely cannot afford to be crippled by debt. If nobody offers you a generous fellowship, well, consider that maybe you should be doing something else with your life.

    If you are still an undergraduate, some graduate programs will consider you a dependent of your parents even if your parents have no intention of supporting you once you graduate. These programs will demand a FAFSA and bestow a fellowship based on your "financial need." Other programs could care less what your family circumstances are.

    It's very rare to receive any funding at all for an MA program.

    Cornell has an excellent graduate classics program, so I am sure there are faculty there who can advise you. Talk to the people you worked with there, and whoever is serving as Director of Graduate Studies.
  • raideraderaiderade Posts: 2,499- Senior Member
    Well I am not actually a Cornell student, I'm still in high school, I'm just wondering how this funding works. I just don't understand how people can afford MAs yet people get them all the time.
  • jinglejingle Posts: 1,198Registered User Senior Member
    Raiderade, they pay for them the same way people pay for anything else. Some borrow the money; some work for a while to save the money. Some people who attended inexpensive undergrad schools, or won merit scholarships for their undergraduate education, or who come from affluent families, have the money to spare. Only a minority of people go straight from undergrad to grad school, though, so in most cases MA students are paying their own way from their own earnings.

    Sometimes people get MAs just because they want to know more about a subject. Also, the credential can make you a more desirable applicant for teaching jobs in public or private high schools. Some people whose undergrad record won't get them into a prestigious PhD program will do an MA as a way of improving their preparation and testing the academic waters, then apply to PhD programs after completing the MA. Finally, some people who are initially accepted into PhD programs, but don't succeed there, are offered "terminal MAs" as a sort of consolation prize.
  • atomomatomom Posts: 3,525Registered User Senior Member
    Got an MA in English (20+ years ago). I was a TA--given free tuition and a small stipend--just enough to pay food, cheap rent, gas etc. I had a couple other part-time jobs to make ends meet.
    Don't they need TAs for intro. classics courses?

    This was at non-competitive state u. which did not offer a PhD. Those who continued had to apply to PhD programs elsewhere. Do you get a better offer if you "aim low?"
    One guy purposefully stayed in the program not completing a requirement for, according to legend, 6 years. He liked the lifestyle--took a few classes, taught a few classes, ate Ramen, rode his motorcycle. He may still be there--the "Terminal MA." ;)
  • blossomblossom Posts: 4,307Registered User Senior Member
    Atomom, we had "The oldest living TA" when I was in college. He had a diamond stud in one ear, got invited to undergrad parties because he was fun and interesting (free food! free beer!) and as far as anyone can tell, never really identified a dissertation topic and outlived several of his faculty advisers who either died or got lured to another university before he had to pony up. I've heard that they've since tightened the timeline for the PhD but this guy was one of the more colorful types hanging around the arts and sciences library. And always accessible to his students since his own research was -- well-- not much of a priority!
  • NJSueNJSue Posts: 2,203Registered User Senior Member
    The answer to the OP's question is that you don't pay. If you don't get funding for graduate study in the humanities, either through a fellowship or a TA arrangement, don't go. Do something else.
  • tsdadtsdad Posts: 4,032Registered User Senior Member
    How? Grading papers; job in a book store; coding; parents; working in the snack bar and the library. Tuition was cheap back then even for out of staters. The MA as a credential has served me well over the years.
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