The Truth About Average Stipend For PhD Students In USA


Overall average PhD stipends in the US lie between $23000 to $33000. However, the PhD stipend amount varies among different areas of study, universities/ departments, and cost of living around the campuses.

You can see the table and graphs below to get a quick idea of average PhD stipends by broad fields of study. Also, you can get an idea of the real worth of the PhD stipend amount when compared to a minimum living wage.

Read More: 25 Highest PhD stipends in the US

Let’s first take a quick look at the graph below to see average PhD stipends in US dollars offered for some popular areas of research in the US.

Read More: Is a PhD stipend in the USA enough for international students without any other financial support?

Now knowing the absolute dollar amount of PhD stipend in the US is not enough, we also need to estimate the worth of the average PhD stipend in a certain field/ area of research. To do this we need to compare the average PhD stipend with the average living wage ratio.

I will explain the PhD stipend to living wage ratio after the table.

Average PhD stipends in the US

Broad Area of StudyAverage PhD Stipend (in US dollars)Average Living Wage Ratio
Electrical Engineering & Computer Science$28,6321.18
Biomedical Engineering
$33,0721.43
Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science$32,5121.35
Chemical Engineering
$33,0231.39
Civil and Environmental Engineering$27,3561.18
Economics$28,8711.18
Physics$30,7591.21
Chemistry$30,1871.28
Biology$31,2541.31
Geological Sciences
$29,7001.25
Statistics
$23,8521.03
Business
$30,5311.3
Education
$24,0131.04
Psychology$23,9521
Public Policy
$26,2631.1
Political Science$24,1841.05
History$25,4601.03
Sociology
$27,1741.12
English
$23,2871.01
Media and Communication$23,0020.98
Musicology
$16,2710.73
Anthropology
$22,8240.97
Languages and Literatures
$26,9361.08
Philosophy
$27,6641.11
Average PhD stipends (for 1st year) in the US along with their average living wage ratios for these 24 broad area of studies were calculated from more than 700 entries (for years 2020-2021,2021-2022, 2022-2023). Source: PhD Stipends.

See remarks about data for more information on how the data was collected and filtered.

Further Reading: Do all PhD students get a stipend in the US?

  Range of PhD stipends in the US by field of study

Why use Living Wage Ratio to estimate PhD stipend in the US?

The figure below explain PhD stipend to living wage ratio

How living wage ratio is calculated for PhD students stipend
The living wage ratio formula is very useful in estimating the real value of a PhD stipend. Lower than 1 values are an indicator that PhD stipend may not be able to sustain a single person’s living cost.

Read more: Do PhD students make a lot of Money?

The living wage ratio proves useful in comparing the PhD stipends in the US because

  • the US is a huge country and living cost differs greatly from one area to another. Thus, comparing the absolute dollar amount of stipend may not indicate its real worth.
  • living wage ratio helps us in estimating the purchasing and sometimes saving power of a PhD student with the stipend offered.

Living Wage

Are you wondering what is Living Wage? and What is the difference between Living Wage and Minimum Wage you often heard about?

Take a look at the infographic below to fully understand the concept of Living Wage.

Source : Living Wage vs Minimum Wage

Now why do we use the Living Wage Ratio as compared to Minimum Living Wage? The quoted text below explain this efficiently.

FAQs at phdstipends.com explains the PhD Stipend to Living Wage Ratio

“We normalize each stipend to the living wage for the county in which the university resides, creating a unitless number we call the living wage ratio. The living wage data is from the Poverty in America Living Wage Calculator and is for a single person with no dependents. The purpose is to allow you to quickly compare the stipends offered by universities in different cost-of-living areas.”

FAQs at phdstipends.com

Why estimating Living Wage is crucial in the US?

Now, you might ask why this PhD stipend to minimum living wage ratio is a big issue in the US. Take a look at the figure below to get an idea why average PhD stipends make PhD students struggles in the US.

  Do all PhD students get a stipend in the US?
This map shows the minimum amount necessary to meet basic needs without relying on outside help, including factors such as child care and health insurance, in addition to food and other regular costs. All data from MIT’s Living Wage calculator.
MapInSeconds.com

Now after knowing the average PhD Stipends for various popular areas of research you can compare them with the Living Wage stats provided here.

Read More: 5 Reasons why PhD students are paid (or why they should be)

Average PhD Stipend in the US by living wage ratio

Now lets look at the real worth of average PhD stipends by using the lenses of Living Wage Ratio.

The chart above can give you an idea of how much a PhD stipend really worth when we compare it to living costs in the area. This gives us a realistic picture of first-year PhD stipends in terms of the actual purchase power of the PhD student.

Further Reading: Why PhD students are paid poorly?

Remarks about the collected DATA

Sources of data

I collected this data from phdstipends.com. The PhD stipend information is willingly shared by the PhD students. The data is publicly available at phdstipends.com.

No information is collected regarding any individual. The submitter’s anonymity is maintained on this platform. You can read more about the anonymity of the submitters, sharing of PhD stipends, and other common questions here.

Inclusive criteria

To maintain consistency and provide a fair comparison between PhD stipend offers, I used the following criteria:

  • PhD stipend is assumed to be a pre-tax amount. As many of the entries did not include any tax deduction information. PhD stipend is taxed if it is compensation for some work (assistantships) and on the other hand, it is tax-free if it is not paid against any work (fellowships). I explained the PhD stipend in the US in detail here. I hope you will find the infographics in this post useful.
  • To ensure the updated information only 1st year PhD stipends were included from the academic year 2020-2021, 2021-2022, 2022-2023 for comparison.
  • Only those stipends were included that were reported correctly. Any entry with mistakes and errors was excluded.
  • In the case of the same stipend by two universities, the inclusion was decided on living wage ratio e.g., the minimum stipend will be assigned to the lower living wage ratio stipend.
  5 Common Questions Applicants ask about PhD stipend?

Limitations

These are limitations of my data so you should accept these PhD stipend values with a grain of salt.

  • Most entries do not provide information regarding the duration of the stipend. So I cannot confirm that PhD stipend was offered for 9 or 12 months.
  • Most of these stipends are not minimum stipend offers reported on the universities’ websites. Some additional fellowships e.g., any external, additional departmental fellowship, etc. may or may not be reported in the PhD stipend amount. The reasons are the inclusion of internal and external fellowships, summer support packages with the basic financial aid package. For example, the basic financial aid package reported by Stanford and Princeton is much lower than the highest stipend PhD students are reporting.
  • If you combine any assistantship or fellowship, the value of the stipend may change due to reimbursement of assistantship and tax.
  • Some additional fees and deductions e.g., a part of health insurance, one-time semester fee, etc. may not be reported in the PhD stipend amount.

Read more: Can you live off PhD Stipend?

Final Word

If you are planning to do a PhD in the US, you should keep an eye on the sufficiency of PhD stipend offered by your department. You can do this by estimating the living cost in that area by different popular living cost websites. I found Numbeo.com much more reliable than others.

If you are an international PhD aspirant, you should not be intimidated by the amount of the stipend offered in the US after converting the US dollars into your own currency. The best way is to calculate the living cost in the area. This way the living wage ratio mentioned above can give you an idea about how you can afford to live for 5-7 years (average time for completion of a PhD in the US).

A PhD is already harder than a job and if you are struggling financially then the difficulty level increases further for you as a PhD student.

Read More: Which country pays the highest stipends to PhD students?