Sunday, September 5, 2010


Q. Will I get funding with an MS admit?
Q. How soon can I expect to get funded after joining my Masters program at a US graduate school?
Q. How do I go about getting funding as a Masters student?

MS admissions hardly ever come with scholarships or fellowships right with the admission itself (unlike in the case of PhDs). Most MS admission letters would read "The MS is an unfunded program and students should not rely on securing departmental/university funding for attending the graduate program" and or something similar. However, that only means that you are not "assured" to get funding, it doesn't mean that you will not be able to get funding at all.

Sources of funding for Masters students typically include research assistantships, teaching assistantships and if neither of those work out, other jobs like library/administrative/IT assistant, etc. The ease of actually getting funded depends on a lot of factors like the particular university in question, the economic situation, department, etc. Funding will be tougher to get in universities with very large admit pools. E.g., if a usual batch of MS students in a department is 200 or 300-strong, that increases the competition for the limited amount of funding slots. The economic situation (e.g. recession) may affect the amount of funding the university/its professors are getting from the government, defence agencies, industry, etc. for various research projects. Even the department you are admitted into has a part to play. Some departments are in general wealthier (as far as funding is concerned) than others. These are just some of the factors that affect funding, but the best way to get a good picture about the funding scenario at a particular department in a particular university is to talk with a current student there. Forums like are good sources for such information. But it would be best to get the contact information of a current student from the university's directory and mail him/her directly to get an accurate picture of the current funding opportunities there.

I can do my part by talking a bit about funding opportunities at Stanford, specifically the Stanford computer science department. The funding scenario for Stanford CS students is quite good. Most people I know managed to get funding at least by their second or third quarter, if not right from the first quarter itself. Of course, it involves a lot of patience to contact different professors, possibly interview with them, etc. and repeat this as many times as necessary. But students who took the funding-hunt seriously did eventually manage to get funded - either as RAs or TAs . CS students also have the advantage of easily applying for RAships in other departments like Psychology, Geophysics, Linguistics, etc., where there may be projects that need students with programming expertise. They thus have plenty of opportunities (because of their programming skills) in places apart from their own department. This is a luxury which students in other departments might not have. Also, from what I knew/heard at Stanford, there certainly were funding opportunities for students in other departments too, but probably not as abundant as those for CS students. It's always better to cross-check this information with current students at the university.

A word about on-campus jobs apart from RAships and TAships. It's not uncommon to be unfunded in the very first quarter/semester. Professors usually want to know you first or evaluate you in a class before they give you an assistantship under them. Thus, with no or little background to show, it can be tough to secure an RAship or TAship right in the first (or even in the first two) semesters. An alternative way to fund yourself is through other on-campus jobs like library assistant, administrative assistant at a particular department, etc. These jobs are usually posted on an internal careers/job listing website and pay on an hourly basis. The salary might not be comparable to what you get as a RA or TA, and you also miss out on the best part of the RA/TA compensation, i.e. tuition waiver. Nevertheless, it can be a source of income to at least offset the day-to-day living costs and saves you from spending that much out of your/parents' pockets. Moreover, this should be a temporary job that you do while you keep your hunt on for TAships and RAships.

My final advice would be that if you are getting into a highly reputed university and into a very in-demand program (where you are assured of getting handsome jobs after graduation), please do not reconsider your decision to join just based on the fear of getting funding. Even if you do not get adequate funding and end up owing a substantial education loan, you should be able to repay that fairly easy with your post-graduation job. Having a Masters degree from a university like Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, CMU or any of the other top US universities is definitely well worth it.