Scholarships for Doctorate Degrees

Pursuing a doctorate such as a Ph.D. opens doors to new educational opportunities and advancement. However, the cost of doctoral study is quite high, as this level of education involves years of intensive research and coursework. Scholarships and fellowships play an important role in helping offset these high costs and making advanced education more accessible. We will consider the various funding opportunities available for doctoral students across many programs and fields of study.

Types of Scholarships

There are several main categories of scholarships available specifically for doctoral students. The most common types include:

Institutional Scholarships

Many universities and colleges offer merit-based scholarships for incoming and continuing doctoral students. Award amounts vary but can help pay up to full tuition and some living expenses. Schools determine eligibility and selection criteria, which may include academic achievement, test scores, personal statements, letters of recommendation, research interests, and other factors.

Applying directly to the program you plan to attend is one of the best options. Be sure to thoroughly research the scholarships offered through your prospective graduate department and institution. Meeting early deadlines is critical for securing these competitive need- and merit-based funding packages.

National and International Scholarships

Several prestigious scholarships are awarded on a national or international level to exceptional students pursuing doctorates. The most renowned of these include:

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  • Fulbright Grants: Offered by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to fund international research and English teaching around the world.
  • Ford Foundation Fellowships: Prestigious awards supporting underrepresented minority students and those committed to diversity. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or nationals from designated ethnic groups.
  • NSF Graduate Research Fellowships: Highly competitive grants focusing on science, technology, engineering, and math fields from the National Science Foundation.
  • Gates Cambridge Scholarships: Fully funded awards for exceptional applicants from any country outside the UK to study at the University of Cambridge.

These esteemed fellowships confer competitive advantages like enhanced career opportunities, networking benefits, and prestige. However, they also have rigorous eligibility criteria and application processes that may require preliminary exams, research statements, and letters of recommendation from top scholars in the candidate’s field. Strategic planning is needed to compete at this elite level successfully.

Dissertation Awards

As doctoral students advance to the dissertation phase, some targeted scholarships can help fund this culminating research project. Sources to explore include:

  • Grants from professional organizations: Many groups award annual grants to support dissertation work relevant to their mission. Popular options include those from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the American Sociological Association (ASA).
  • Campus-specific awards: Many universities offer competitive dissertation fellowships and small grants through special programs and individual departments. Stay alert to internal funding announcements via listservs and department staff/faculty.
  • Private foundations: Several grantmakers accept proposals for dissertation research on strategic topics. The Spencer Foundation and such disease-focused groups fund work on key issues within their missions.
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Securing pre-dissertation or dissertation stage funding can relieve financial pressure and allow full focus on academic work. Students must apply early – typically in their 2nd or 3rd year – when formulating research plans to maximize chances of success.

Diversity Scholarships

Underrepresented students confronting additional barriers may qualify for targeted scholarships accounting for factors like race, ethnicity, disability status, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity. Examples include:

  • NIH Diversity Supplements: Supplemental awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to enhance recruitment and retention of underrepresented students in biomedical research fields.
  • Ford Foundation Diversity Fellowships: Merit-based awards supporting underrepresented minority students in specific programs across all academic fields.
  • Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Dissertation Grants: For advanced Ph.D. students demonstrating financial need and potential to succeed despite obstacles faced.
  • American Indian Graduate Center Fellowships: Scholarships assisting Native American and Alaska Native students in health, business and STEM fields.
  • Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships: For humanities and social science doctoral candidates from underrepresented backgrounds near completion.

Taking advantage of special opportunities accounting for diverse experiences and backgrounds can make achieving advanced degrees attainable for millions more students.

Private Scholarships

Independent organizations and companies may also offer scholarships tailored to specific fields or career goals. Here are a few to consider:

  • Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research: Competitive awards supporting scientific research across all fields. Open to predoctoral and postdoctoral applicants.
  • SAGE/JMP Dissertation Awards: Awards focused on methodologically rigorous dissertations using SAGE and JMP statistical software and analysis.
  • SREB-State Doctoral Scholars Program: Funded by the Southern Regional Education Board for residents of 14 southeastern states pursuing select STEM PhDs.
  • AAAS Fellowship: Supports underrepresented scholars in science communication-focused doctorate programs such as science writing or journalism.

Thorough internet research will uncover many additional independent scholarships. Connecting with professional contacts within intended fields can also reveal specialized options. The scholarship search requires diligence but offers great rewards.

Non-Tuition Costs

While tuition is a major financial hurdle, other living expenses accumulate during doctoral study which scholarships may cover. Beyond tuition, common costs doctoral candidates face include:


Many graduate programs and external fellowships provide modest stipends to help cover living costs during the doctoral program. Stipends typically range from $18,000 to $35,000 annually depending on the field, location, years of study completed, and any teaching or research responsibilities. Competitive national fellowships generally offer the most generous stipend packages.

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Health Insurance

Full-time doctoral students are usually eligible for the university’s student health insurance plan. However, premiums still represent a significant yearly expense that scholarships can help pay. Most graduate student stipends are insufficient to cover the full cost of tuition and living without additional aid.

Research & Conference Travel

Doctoral research projects often involve travel costs to access specialized facilities, archival materials, field sites, or subjects. Conferences serve an important scholarly role as well, but airfare, lodging, and registration fees pile up quickly without assistance. Many scholarships help fund these essential research and networking activities.

Dependents & Family Obligations

Some doctoral candidates have spouses, partners, or children to support during their studies. Living expenses rise significantly with additional household members to provide for. Scholarships acknowledging family responsibilities can smooth over this extra financial burden.

Tech & Supplies

Research equipment, computer hardware/software, transcription services, data sets, and lab materials all require investments. Costs add up fast over multiple years of iterative and technologically advanced doctoral study. Scholarship support eases the pressure of these educational expenses.

By addressing a wide variety of education-related costs, scholarships play a vital role in making doctoral degrees accessible and sustainable for talented students from all walks of life. Multifaceted funding is key to minimizing financial barriers and maximizing opportunities for success.

Fields of Study

Scholarship availability varies significantly depending on the doctoral program or field of study being pursued:

Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM)

Due to national priorities, STEM fields attract substantial scholarship dollars compared to others. Top funding sources include NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, certain NIH awards, and programs run by scientific professional societies. Applicants must demonstrate excellent research potential.

Health Professions

Medicine, nursing, dentistry, and allied health bring their scholarship possibilities. The NIH F30 and F31 grants aid pre-doctoral and post-doctoral biomedical research training respectively. Some professional associations also offer targeted funding.

Humanities & Social Sciences

While humanities/social science programs face greater funding challenges, select external fellowships exist. The Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship cited above stands out, along with occasional foundation grants and career-maker awards like Fulbright, Rhodes, or Marshall scholarships. Competition remains steep.


Prospective K-12 teachers may access scholarships through state-level programs seeking to address teacher shortages. The U.S. Department of Education’s Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) supports specialty areas as well.


Targeted scholarships exist, especially for underrepresented MBA students or those pursuing specialized business doctorates. Programs may be associated with specific universities, companies, or diversity initiatives. Research funding proves more limited in this professional field overall.

Law, Policy & International Relations

Competitive national fellowships elevate chances, as these programs see far fewer dedicated scholarship dollars than STEM counterparts. The Fulbright, Rhodes, Gates Cambridge, and related awards stand out, if candidates meet exacting eligibility benchmarks.

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Researching program-specific funding priorities and available scholarships optimizes success across diverse graduate fields and specializations. Special consideration may come to applicants focused on national priority areas like teacher preparation or healthcare provision as well.

Application Strategies

Strategically plan scholarship applications with these tips:

  • Target Multiple Options – Apply to as many relevant scholarships as reasonably possible to maximize the odds of success. Tailor each application specifically.
  • Highlight Uniqueness – Scholarship panels receive many qualified applicants, so emphasize unique experiences, interests, or backgrounds making you especially worthy of support.
  • Ask for Recommendations Early – Contact recommenders well in advance and provide context on your skills, goals, and needs. This allows them to write meaningful letters of support.
  • Polish Your Writing Sample – Scholarship essays and research statements offer a chance to shine, so take time crafting compelling examples of your strongest work. Have others proofread.
  • Prepare for Interviews – Some top awards like Fulbright involve interviews which allow personal connection. Research panel members and rehearse responses to common questions.
  • Follow Instructions Closely – Missed requirements can result in automatic rejection, so double-check formatting specifications, word limits, required documents, and deadlines.
  • Appreciate Feedback – Should you not receive an award, request comments to strengthen future applications. Scholarship committees want to cultivate excellent researchers.
  • Celebrate Successes – Share accepted offers publicly on social media and thank those who supported your application process with recommendation letters and advice.

Thorough preparation paired with highlighting your strengths, qualifications, and future promise in the application process maximizes your chances of being selected for scholarship support.


1. What is the average amount for a doctoral scholarship?

The amount of scholarship awards can vary significantly depending on the program, field of study, prestige of the scholarship, and other factors. However, on average, doctoral scholarships range from $15,000 to $30,000 per year. More competitive national fellowships from sources like the NSF or NIH may provide $35,000 or more annually.

2. When should I start applying for scholarships?

You’ll want to start researching and preparing scholarship applications as early as possible, ideally, one year before you plan to begin your doctorate program. Many deadlines fall in the late fall/early winter (October-December) for the following academic year. Apply to as many opportunities as you can starting 9-12 months in advance of your intended enrollment date.

3. Are scholarships only for incoming doctoral students?

While many scholarships target incoming first-year doctoral students, there are also opportunities available for advanced doctoral candidates, particularly those working on dissertations. Be sure to explore ongoing funding from your institution, department, and external sources throughout your graduate studies. Appropriate timing is key, so research multi-year application cycles.

4. What are my chances of getting a competitive national fellowship?

The acceptance rates for top-tier national fellowships from sources like the NSF, NASA, Ford Foundation, and Gates Cambridge are typically 5% or less due to extremely high applicant volumes and award amounts. Your odds increase substantially with an outstanding academic record from a highly-ranked program and a strong fit within the fellowship’s priorities. Early mentoring from advisors is important when aiming for these elite opportunities.

5. What if I don’t receive any external funding? Are doctorates still possible?

While obtaining external funding greatly eases the financial burden, it is possible to complete a doctorate even without scholarships or fellowships. Options include seeking multi-year assistance commitments from your prospective graduate program and department in the form of tuition waivers, competitive teaching or research assistantships, loans, or a planned savings strategy. Having frank advising conversations about affordability is important during the application process.

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As the founder and content strategist of Subteller, Subchief oversees all aspects of content creation and website management. He works closely with freelance writers and editors to develop valuable, informative articles on topics related to immigration, careers, legal issues and more.

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1 Comment

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