Financial Situation of Ph.D. Students in US Universities

***This article is reprinted  with the permission of the site sponsor from the website XPLANE (, which contains helpful information about  the life of being a graduate student in the U.S.  English translation by FUTI.***

 “In the U.S., graduate students earn a salary while studying.” Many aspiring Japanese students must have started to consider pursuing graduate studies in the U.S. based on this dream-like statement. However, it is also true that when one seriously starts thinking about studying abroad, one always comes back to a critically important issue: Money.

In this article we (that is, the XPLANE working team) investigated the graduate students’ financial status by polling about 100 Japanese Ph.D. students currently studying in the U.S.

Ph.D. Student Salary

First, we asked a couple of basic questions, “Can a graduate student really receive a salary? “Can he/she  live comfortably on his/her salary?”

According to survey responses from 78 Japanese graduate students studying in the U.S., 97% were making enough money to live comfortably while concentrating on their studies by receiving scholarships and working as a research assistant (RA) or a teaching assistant (TA). Further, according to collected data, the graduate students’ salaries were somewhere between $2,000 to $3,500 per month (median amount being $2,900). If converted to Japanese Yen, it amounts to about ¥20,000 to ¥35,000 which is more than what is offered to students by the Japan Society for Promotion of Science.

Graph captions: 97% living solely on income such as scholarships; Median Monthly Income, $2,900

How are graduate students securing funds? In this survey, the students were asked to select any of the choices that apply to them including a) scholarships provided by the U.S. university (which does not have to be repaid), b) scholarships from Japanese organizations, and c) TA, and/or RA stipends. Two out of three surveyed chose “scholarships from Japan” and “RA” as a main source of funds, whereas a good number of those depended on scholarships and TA stipends from a U.S. university.

Of those currently studying in the U.S., one out of three are living without a scholarship from Japan but are able to secure more than enough funds by wisely managing their RA salary and U.S. university scholarship. If an RA position is not available with your faculty advisor due to their department budget constraint, one can still earn money as a TA in the short run.

Additionally, nearly three-quarters of those surveyed had multiple sources of income from the day they entered U.S. graduate school. If one is lucky enough to earn a stable RA position at a U.S. university or a scholarship from Japan with a long-term contract, it is possible to survive by relying on one source of funding. However, in most cases, students combine their RA or TA salaries with other sources of income.

Graph captions: (Top to bottom) Scholarship provided by U.S. university, Scholarship from Japan, TA, RA; The Number of Sources of income since entering U.S. graduate studies

As shown by these findings, in order to secure funding, one must commit their time to apply for scholarships, RA positions, and TA positions. Luckily, although some amount of effort must be put into working as an RA or TA, nearly 100% of the case, graduate students earn sufficient amount for living. This situation makes graduate studies in America very attractive.

Although this article does not go into detail about this topic, tuition is often waived for Ph.D. degree candidates in the U.S. This is because RA, TA, and scholarships cover not only living expenses but tuition as well.

In summary, in this 100-person survey, we found out that graduate students in Ph.D. programs in the U.S. are able to receive adequate funding from scholarships, RA and TA positions to pay for their living expenses. This is encouraging data for those considering studying abroad, but the situation varies greatly depending on the university, department, and research lab. We would recommend those who have some reservations or questions to have a discussion ahead of time with advisors of the program you are applying for.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to XPLANE by Seldoon ( [at]

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