How Much Do Graduate Students Get Paid?

Median earnings for graduate teaching assistants was $38,040 in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Trea Branch
Ryan Lane
By Ryan Lane and  Trea Branch 
Updated
Edited by Des Toups
How Much Do Graduate Students Get Paid?

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Graduate students who work as teaching assistants earn an average of $38,040 annually, according to 2021 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.

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.

How much is a graduate student’s stipend?

Cornell University recently announced it would increase graduate student stipends by 8%, bringing the average annual assistantship stipends for Ithaca- and Cornell AgriTech-based students to $43,326.

But this is not the norm. Many graduate students are paid much less.

The Temple University Graduate Students' Association, for example, began negotiations with the university in January 2021 to raise their average graduate student stipend — currently at $19,500 year.

Because funding can vary by school, it's best to research 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

Working while in school can help cover some graduate program costs. But even with multiple jobs, you’ll likely need additional money to afford all your expenses.

Apply for scholarships and grants you may qualify for. Also, explore any other assistance your school offers. For example, Duke University offers up to $7,000 a semester to Ph.D. students who need child care.

After exhausting free aid and your stipend or salary, you may have to turn to graduate student loans to close any additional gaps in funding. For the 2020-2021 academic year, the average grad student graduated with $17,680 in federal graduate student loans, according to the College Board, a not-for-profit association of educational institutions.

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.

You can also take out up to your program’s cost of attendance — minus other aid you’ve already received — in graduate PLUS loans from the federal government or private graduate school loans.

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