Before applying for a PhD it is important to consider how you will pay for it. The level of financial support offered to each applicant will vary and it may be up to you to fill the gaps. Here are the different sources of PhD funding and examples of each.
Fully-Funded Project or Program
Many PhD projects and programs are fully funded, meaning they are created with funding already allocated. When this is the case, the student does not have to pay fees (tuition) and is paid by the university. This payment can be in the form of either a stipend or salary if the PhD student is considered a university employee. If a project or program is fully funded it will normally be advertised as such. Fully-funded programs and projects are more common in STEM fields but there are still a good number in the humanities and social sciences. These kinds of PhD positions tend to be more common in Europe (excluding the UK) and at American R1 universities.
If you plan on undertaking a self-proposed PhD project, you will probably have to find your own funding. Fortunately, there are several options you can purse.
The university you're going to be studying at should be the first place you look for funding. Most universities offer a variety of funding opportunities for their graduate students. These can range from a partial tuition reduction to a full tuition waiver and a generous stipend. Most graduate scholarships are awarded based on academic merit, however there are usually some which are based on financial need. There may even be some that are open only to students from certain countries or studying in specific fields. Check the funding section of your university’s website to find out which scholarships you are eligible for.
Research councils are a major source of grants and scholarships for doctoral students. Each country has its own research councils that its citizens (and sometimes international students studying in the country) can apply for funding from. These awards are competitive with lengthy applications but the funding they provide is substantial. For example, UK residents can apply for full PhD studentships from the UK Research Councils worth a minimum of £19,037 annually while the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC) awards Canadian and international doctoral students between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.
Other Government Funding
National governments run and support several educational funding programs in addition to research councils. Many of them are aimed specifically at graduate students pursuing degrees in other countries. For example, the UK Government awards Commonwealth Scholarships to over 800 graduate students from across the Commonwealth to finance their studies in the UK. Similarly, the US Department of State’s famous Fulbright Program offsets the cost of tuition, travel, and living expenses for US citizens conducting independent research abroad.
Foundations, Charities and Trusts
There are several foundations, academic societies, charities, and trusts that provide full or partial funding for students pursuing graduate studies. The oldest and most well-known example is the Rhodes Scholarship, an award for international students to pursue graduate studies at Oxford University. The newer Gates Cambridge Scholarship offers approximately 100 fully-funded scholarships a year for graduate studies at the University of Cambridge. This highly-competitive scholarship accepts applicants from any country excluding the UK.
If no other funding option can be secured, it is possible to take out loans to cover the cost of a PhD. These can be either private loans through your bank or government loans, such as the UK Government Postgraduate Doctoral Loan.