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Graduate students who work as teaching assistants earn an average of $36,390 annually, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But how much you get paid as a grad student can vary greatly.
Grad school compensation depends on your school’s policies and your role at the institution. For example, teaching assistants and research assistants may have different pay scales, as could first-year and fourth-year graduate students.
If a grad school salary or stipend is your entire income, you may need graduate student loans. More than half of all grad students took out loans in 2015-16, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
» MORE: What is graduate school?
How graduate students get paid
Colleges may pay graduate students who work at the school via a stipend or a salary. Generally, the key differences between these options are as follows:
Stipends are for students. You receive this funding as part of an assistantship or fellowship from the school. The money is meant to support your living expenses while you perform research or your other educational pursuits. Stipend amounts may be based on the length of the academic year, not the calendar year.
Salaries are for employees. The school has formally hired you as an employee to perform specific responsibilities, like leading a class, for instance. As a salaried worker, your wages may be a set amount or based on the hours you work. You may also receive employee benefits such as subsidized health care or workers’ compensation.
The line between the two options can be blurry, and some schools offer both. For example, at Columbia University, grad students with fellowships get two-thirds of their compensation as a stipend at the beginning of the semester. The remaining money is paid as salary twice a month.
How much is a graduate student’s stipend?
Between studying and working, being a graduate student can feel like a full-time job. Graduate students have pushed for a minimum stipend of $31,000 to reflect that; $31,000 would equal an hourly wage of $15 for someone who works 40 hours a week for the entire year.
Many graduate students may get paid much less than that.
Here is the most recent data from the NCES on the average funding graduate students receive via assistantships:
Non-education Ph.D. students: $18,800.
Education doctoral students: $14,900.
Other doctoral students: $17,900.
You should be able to find specific stipend information on your school’s website. This will likely include how much you’ll receive, as well as any factors that affect your pay rate. For example, the Stanford School of Education pays research assistants more once they’re officially doctoral candidates.
Living on graduate student payments
Work can play a part in your plans to pay for graduate school. But even if you have multiple jobs, you’ll likely need additional money to cover all your living expenses.
Start by looking for assistance your school offers that fits your needs. For example, graduate students can get a housing stipend of $3,600 at Louisiana State University, and Duke University offers $5,000 a semester to Ph.D. students who need child care.
After exhausting free aid and your stipend or salary, you’ll likely need to turn to graduate school loans to cover any remaining costs. The average graduate student debt is $71,000, according to the NCES, not including undergraduate loans.
There aren’t subsidized loans for graduate school, where the government covers the cost of interest while you’re in school, but unsubsidized loans are available and you don't have to make payments while enrolled at least half-time.
» MORE: Is a masters degree worth it?