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The costs (and benefits) of attending graduate school

The costs (and benefits) of attending graduate school

Summary:

“Applying 411” is a special blog series about applying to graduate school in chemistry–at Emory and in general. The goal of this series is to demystify the process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies.

Once the application fees are behind you, there are still some costs associated with attending graduate school. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • tuition, fees, & insurance
  • room & board (on or off-campus; more commonly off)
  • conference, training, and research travel costs
  • cost of living

It’s important to think about these costs during the application process. An understanding of costs will help to ensure you choose a graduate program with adequate support for your specific situation.

Stipends, tuition waivers, insurance…oh, my!

Before we get to costs, let’s bring stipends into the mix. Many graduate schools offer a stipend – that means, a graduate student salary. This is called a stipend rather than a salary because it is support for your education with some requirements attached rather than a variable payment based on punching a clock. It is also likely less than you will make in a “regular” research job to reflect the fact that you are in training. Stipends are taxable income. Tuition waivers (money paid on your behalf as a tuition scholarship) are not taxable.

Emory offers a stipend, tuition waiver, and health insurance subsidy to ALL admitted students. Recently, Laney Graduate School announced the exciting news that Emory has made a $40 million investment in graduate education that will raise all program stipends to $31,000 starting in Fall 2019! So, admitted students in chemistry will now receive:

  • $31,000 base stipend (some students will receive merit fellowships above this amount; all applicants are automatically considered for these fellowships. Raises are given to ALL students, not just new students.)
  • 100% tuition waiver (worth $87,000 in 2018-2019)
  • 100% health insurance subsidy (worth $3,164 in 2017-2018–this covers the full cost of enrollment for health insurance. Students pay insurance-negotiated co-pays and other fees for actual services rendered.)

Considering cost of living

Cost of living is going to be a factor in how stipends and costs play out for you. Many students move far from home for graduate school and may not be familiar with the costs in a specific city.

In Atlanta, housing costs are lower than in other cities. Transportation costs in Atlanta might be higher than in some cities depending on where you live and how you prefer to travel.

Compare potential stipends – or, as you get further along, actual financial packages that accompany admissions offers – by adjusting for the cost of living in different cities.  Here is one site that lets you do that:

https://www.nerdwallet.com/cost-of-living-calculator

Nerdwallet shows that you would need $55,262 in San Francisco, $71,490 in Manhattan, and $27,742 in Durham, N.C. to match the spending power of Emory’s $31,000 stipend in Atlanta, GA.

More About Tuition, Fees, & Insurance

Most reputable chemistry PhD programs in chemistry will cover all or most of your tuition cost. You may be responsible for a small contribution to tuition as well as student fees. Additionally, the requirements attached to your tuition waiver will vary. These might include:

  • required TA service
  • time limits related to PhD completion
  • a requirement to obtain in-state residency status within a year (for state schools) which includes the cost of transferring driver’s license and car insurance

All schools will charge some fees and it can be hard to compare. Keep in mind that fees might be rolled in to other costs or they might seem optional while actually being difficult to avoid (like an optional computing fee without which you cannot access campus wi-fi!) Outside of parking, none of Emory’s fees are optional, but they cover a wide range of benefits.

Emory requires students to pay fees each semester of about $100-$400. A full fee schedule is available on the graduate school’s website. At Emory, fees pay for:

  • access to campus athletic facilities
  • computing
  • a one-time transcript fee that pays for all future transcripts
  • free visits to student health (pay for suggested treatments and medications at the health insurance-negotiated rate)
  • mental health support, including access to Emory’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
  • student activities, including Pi Alpha Chemical Society, our graduate student social and service group that provides free and low-cost activities to all graduate students

Importantly, Emory’s stipend support is not contingent on research or teaching services. All students do some teaching as part of their education and all chemistry students will engage in research, but only through structured activities that are part of their training–not as work in exchange for scholarships and fellowships. Support is also guaranteed to continue at the same level as long as students make sufficient academic progress. We do not require advanced students to compete for their core funding. In fact, advanced students are eligible to apply for special fellowships, such as the Dean’s Teaching Fellowship–and chemistry students have been very successful in securing these fellowships.

Why does insurance roll in to this whole picture? Many schools have a health insurance requirement, meaning that all enrolled students must be insured. Some schools offer health insurance subsidies to help students meet this requirement (Emory pays 100% of health insurance enrollment costs for chemistry students). If insurance is not offered or required by your school, consider that enrollment in health insurance (or not) will be a factor in how far your salary will stretch.

Room & Board

The costs of housing, food, and incidentals will vary from place to place (see the information on “cost of living” above.) School-affiliated graduate housing is less common than undergraduate housing. It’s more likely to be available in areas where the cost of living makes it difficult from graduate students to rent at market rates.

Emory has two housing options that are affiliated with the university. They give preference to Emory students but are not owned or run by Emory. They are President’s Park and Campus Crossings. Both have furnished and unfurnished options and Campus Crossings offers roommate matching.

Emory also offers a moderated web portal called Emory Off-Campus Housing where curated listings for apartment and house rentals can be viewed with an Emory netID and password.

Some general considerations about housing:

  • Does it matter to you if you can afford to live without a roommate?
    Our students have found this very possible in Atlanta.
  • Do you want pets?
    Atlanta is VERY pet friendly, including in rental apartments. The cost of a pet fee can add to start-up costs in a new living situation.
  • Are you in a position to consider purchasing a home and, if so, is your school of choice located in an area with affordable housing stock?
    Home costs are rising in Atlanta, but still affordable within driving distance of Emory. We have a few students each year who purchase a home or condo, often renting rooms to other students.
  • Do you have accessibility or health needs related to housing?
    Both of Emory’s affiliated complexes have accessible units and are on a shuttle route that connects to Emory healthcare locations
  • How will you get to school?
    Many schools charge for parking on campus. Emory allows students to buy a yearly parking pass to a specific deck for about $650. Some schools have less expensive parking, some offer a “hunting” pass where you can park but must find a space in one of any number of decks, some schools only offer satellite parking to students, etc. Consider if your school is accessible by walking or public transport. Consider your level of comfort with your transport options and whether you will have access to a car. Consider your probable working hours and family needs.

Transportation (including moving costs) and parking

Transportation and parking is one of those tricky financial and time costs that many students forget to consider. Think also about the cost of moving to school from home. Some schools offer moving subsidies (unfortunately, Emory currently does not). Emory does offer an early stipend start date of August 15th so that students are compensated for orientation activities. An emergency, no-interest loan is also available for students who need start-up funds for their move.

A note about food

Graduate students are experts at finding free food and many universities offer multiple events monthly or even weekly with some free food. This is not to suggest that students should rely on free food and we strongly support (and provide!) a stipend that allows students the spending power to manage food costs alongside other imperatives. But finding free food is a skill that many graduate students excel at!

Free food is also an example of one of the benefits of attending graduate school. Graduate scholars have access not just to food but to a myriad of tangible and intangible university resources–from easy access to a network of scholars distinguished in their field to world class libraries (journal subscriptions!) and more obscure but equally useful resources like 3D printing, free or low cost entertainment, and much more!

Conference, Training, and Research Travel Costs

From application fees to apartments, many of the considerations listed here are most important to a new graduate student. Keep in mind the costs that you might encounter as your career progresses.

When will you want to go to conferences in your field? Do you need to use a research instrument at another school or train with someone off-site? Will study abroad be part of your graduate student journey? (Emory’s NSF Center for Selective C-H Functionalization offers funded study abroad opportunities for graduate students.)

At Emory, Laney students are eligible to apply for up to $8,000 of research and training funds called Professional Development Support (PDS) Funds. Additional conference and research costs are often (but not always) covered by a student’s P.I.

The Graduate Student Council offers an additional $250 conference attendance grant to students.

Our students have also been competitive for fellowships that fund conference travel (sometimes as a supplement to a larger fellowship award, sometimes as a smaller award given directly by the national organization of a specific conference.)

Other Costs

Other things can come up over the five(ish) years it takes to pursue a degree that might surprise you. The following questions cover a few more (although still not all) additional financial questions.

You don’t need to have all the answers to attend graduate school. No one has a crystal ball (or, if you do, call us! we’re curious who’s getting the next few Nobel Prizes in Chemistry!)

Here are some things to consider…

  • What are your options if you need to take time off for personal or health reasons? (Emory offers a stipend pause with program and graduate school approval)
  • Will the ability of a partner to find a job or a child to attend school near your selected grad school change your financial picture?
  • Will you want to take time off for parental leave? (Emory does not currently offer parental leave, although grants sometimes allow this cost)
  • Do you have the wardrobe required for future career milestones? Conferences? Interviews? When will these costs factor in?
  • Will you need to pay fees related to visas, passports?
  • How often will you travel to visit friends and family? What are the costs? Will work schedule flexibility be a factor in how far ahead you can book flights?
  • Are you responsible for parents, dependents, etc.?
  • Are you aware of tax laws that might affect you due to factors like marital status, citizenship status, etc.?

Beyond the Numbers

Budgeting is essential for graduate students (we like YNAB!) But many graduate programs offer support that makes graduate school a sustainable financial option.

Without a doubt, pursuing a graduate education comes with a cost: though they can come close, fellowships may not cover 100% of your living costs, and by going to graduate school you are delaying or interrupting your professional career and the climb up the salary ladder.

If you decide to make that choice — because you are committed to pursuing your curiosity, to developing your capacities, to contributing to the development of knowledge and the advancement of the public good, or for some other reason — and if the Laney Graduate School turns out to be the place for you, then we are committed to providing the financial assistance to make it a feasible and attractive option.

Next in Applying 411: GRExit


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