Sunday, September 5, 2010

Funding

Q. Will I get funding with an MS admit?
or
Q. How soon can I expect to get funded after joining my Masters program at a US graduate school?
or
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 edulix.com 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.

16 comments:

  1. Hi! How important is the AWA section of the GRE? I got 1490 in my GRE but only a 4 in my AWA! :( I am wondering if I should retake my GRE...could you give me some advice?

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  2. @Madhura

    I can't speak confidently for all universities, but at least from my experience at Stanford, anything above 3.5 was considered to have cleared the GRE cutoff.

    But even at other universities, I wouldn't worry too much about your AWA score since you have a very good score on the other 1600. My advice would be to not waste time and money on retaking the GRE, but focus on strengthening the other aspects of your profile. Your GRE score's already pretty good!

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  3. Sir, is there any type of financial assistance that I can apply for when submit my application to an institute?

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  4. @Rahul If had to answer that question in a general sense, then the answer is mostly no, unless the admissions application for that university explicitly has such a field or option in their application form. PhD students are considered for scholarships along with their admits, but MS applications are almost never given guaranteed funding. But you can double-check on the university's website. They will definitely have a funding-related page which describes various options (a lot of them might be applicable only to US citizens).

    The more likely scenario is that you get in touch with professors directly for a RA or TA. If you know someone who's already studying in the university of interest, he/she can be of better help in guiding you regarding the same.

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  5. I would like to thank you for this well written blog. I really appreciate your work, it is very informative. And your paper 'Demystifying the American Graduate Admissions Process' is also like a light house in guiding the students.

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  6. @gurjeet
    Thanks a lot for comment. I am glad that you are finding it useful. Feel free to share it with anyone you think might find it helpful in their application process.

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  7. I really appreciate the way you helping the new comers.i just want to know that is this possible to get admission in phd with average GRE score but with execellent academics and research experience.i really need your help please suggest.i am already in talks with some professors in kent state and new maxico university.they are interested in my profile.i am applying for spring 15.please give you valuable comment.

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    Replies
    1. @kartik

      It's difficult for me to comment without knowing the specifics of your profile. But in general, I would say yes, it is possible to get a good PhD admission with an excellent academic record accompanied by good research experience (proven by publications and strong recommendation letters) despite having an "average" GRE. Moreover, if your average GRE score is due to a low score on the verbal section, than on the quant section, then it's even favourable for you since committees often make exceptions for low verbal scores (or TOEFL scores) when the profile is otherwise technically very strong.

      If you want discuss your profile in more detail, reach out to me on the email mentioned at http://www-nlp.stanford.edu/~rkarthik/index.html#contact and I'll respond at early as I can.

      Good luck!

      Delete
  8. Sir, my graduation score is not good (59%) but i am getting 310-320 in my GRE mocks. So is it advisable to apply in good colleges (top 20) if i managed to get decent recommendation letters from my profs

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    Replies
    1. It's hard for me to tell for sure without taking a look at your entire profile (projects, internships, SOP, recommender selection, etc.), but my initial feeling is that your grades might be
      a bit low for having a realistic shot at the top 10 or 20 universities. Unless you have some truly excellent research projects or publications... that's why I said I can't say for certain without knowing your full profile. In any case, my advice for you would be to apply to 2-3 in 10-20 range (you can regard them as your ambitious choices), but also apply to more in the lower ranked ones as well. See http://ktick.blogspot.com/2010/08/selecting-universities.html for more details on this.

      If you want discuss your profile in more detail, reach out to me on the email mentioned at http://www-nlp.stanford.edu/~rkarthik/index.html#contact and I'll respond as early as I can.

      Delete
  9. Hi,
    I would very much like to pursue a phd degree from one of the top colleges. I did my bachelors in ECE with 8.18/10. I have a gre of 325(160v 165q) but only 3/6 in awa. I have one patent during 3 yrs of experience in R&D team at Sony. But no other research publications. During the three years or my work, i have contributed significantly to the company in the field of machine learning and computer vision. I wonder if it is realistic to think about getting accepted to stanford or berkeley or cmu.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Nabarun,

      Your GPA is a bit on the lower side and combined with the fact that you don't have any research publications, it might be tough to get a PhD admit into the universities you've mentioned.

      But like I mentioned in my reply to the previous commenter, it's tough to say without taking a look at all aspects of your profile, including recommendation letters, SOP, etc.

      If you want discuss your profile in more detail, reach out to me on the email mentioned at http://cs.stanford.edu/~rkarthik/index.html#contact and I'll respond as early as I can.

      Delete
  10. Hi,
    I have pursued my undergraduate programme with 8.6/10 cgpa. However my work experience is irrelevant to what I have studies, as I worked for an IT company. Though this was irrelevant I was doing well. Would this period of 2 years be considered as break or as valid work experience if I would like to do MS in chemical engineering.
    Swathi

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  11. Thanks for sharing the useful details related to Study abroad and Funding. So, To study abroad, one should take the dedicated GRE Test Preparation, isn't it?

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete