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How to Choose the Right PhD Program for You - Part III: Finances

Money issues stop a lot of nurses from going back to do their PhD, sometimes for good reason. Let's dispel some common concerns first.

When Enrolled Full Time in a PhD Program, Your Student Loans Go Into Payment Deferral

That's right. When you're studying full time you don't have to pay your loans. You're allowed to defer payments until you finish. You can pay the interest so the amount doesn't accumulate too much.  It is a good idea to pay the interest while in school.

Many Full Time PhD Programs Offer Full Tuition Funding and a Living Stipend

Funded PhD study is a great thing. It allows you to focus on your studies and develop your ideas. You can take the time you need to think, because you'll never have it again.

So how much is a living stipend? It varies by school and program but reports from the field suggest that it ranges from $1,500 to $2,300 per month. It is usually enough to cover rent, food, and your internet/phone connection. It is not meant to be enough to pay your credit cards, go on trips, or cover nights out at good restaurants. That's on you.

Notably, depending on your state, you usually do not have taxes deducted or in lesser amounts because policymakers consider this an investment in your future. Odds are you're going to become more economically productive after graduating, so you'll have a higher salary and pay more in taxes over the lifetime of your career.

I Cannot Possibly Live on that Kind of Stipend

Sure you can and people do it all the time. It's not forever either. A good program will want you to graduate in 4 years and once you're done with your first two years, you can work a little more --but not too much.

One recommendation I often make to students, even fully funded ones, is to borrow money to cover the rent. That way you never have to worry about a place to live. Now don't rent a luxury apartment and borrow money to cover that kind of rent. Find someplace comfortable to live, with or without roommates, so you have that peace of mind.

Don't borrow money to pay for a full cable package, make sure you can go out to eat at nice restaurants multiple times a week, or a new wardrobe. That's a poor use of resources and will stress you out more when the bills come in.

Doing a PhD is an investment in yourself and your career for the long term.  It requires sacrifice but I can assure you, it will pay off in the end.

I Can Still Work for Extra Money?

Yes, most PhD students still work at least one to two shifts a month for extra money. Most will pick up shifts during breaks and summer months too.  It requires more of a calculus to figure out how much you're going to need to cover low points in the semester, but when finals come around and you need to study and work on papers, the extra cushion is worth having.

Don't Work Too Much.

This is a trap many nursing PhD students fall into.  We are used to being able to do multiple jobs, projects, commitments at the same time. We think we can still do that during a PhD program.

You can't. Really.

You will most likely fail out of your program if you work too much outside of school.  That is a lived experience you want to avoid if you really want a career in academia or research.


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