The Best Free PhD Programs. Fully funded PhD programs

Navigating the complexities of PhD programs, one term often dominates the discourse – “fully funded”.

It represents a golden opportunity wherein all tuition fees and living expenses are covered by the educational institution, allowing students to focus on their research and studies free from financial constraints.

In this blog post, we explore what fully funded really means, share the author’s personal journey of pursuing a PhD in Australia, delve into the policies of various countries offering free or nearly free PhD programs, and provide key tips for securing a fully funded PhD opportunity.

Whether you’re considering a domestic program or an international adventure, the insights and tips offered here could pave the way to an invaluable, financially stress-free academic journey.

What Does Fully Funded Mean?

In 2023, the concept of a “fully funded” PhD program signifies that the entirety of expenses related to the doctoral program is covered. This includes tuition fees, which are either waived or entirely paid for by the educational institution.

Beyond tuition, the program also encompasses a living stipend or allowance given to doctoral students. 

Fully funded PhD programs essentially function as a comprehensive scholarship, covering everything from tuition fees to books and other necessary supplies.

While the stipend amount can vary based on the institution, it is generally sufficient to cater to the basic living expenses of the students, covering rent, food, and transportation costs.

The main aim of providing this stipend to doctoral students is to facilitate a learning environment where they can focus entirely on their studies, research, and dissertation, without the distraction of financial pressures. 

Universities, including public ones, offer these fully funded doctoral programs with the intention to draw in the best students.

These students, in turn, are expected to contribute significantly to the advancement of research in their respective fields and derive a high-quality education from their doctorates.

It is important to note that eligibility for these scholarships or stipends requires proof of commitment to the doctoral degree. In my experience, this meant securing a top-class master’s degree. This reassured the university of my dedication to pursuing a PhD and furthering my education.

In recent years, there has been a rise in such fully funded programs online, offering a wider reach for prospective PhDs.

As we move further into 2023, students may increasingly opt for these online PhD programmes, making the pursuit of doctoral degrees more accessible than ever.

Countries with a free PhD / fully funded PhD

Sometimes doing a free PhD means going abroad and doing your PhD in another country.

Personally, I travelled to Australia to do my PhD for the adventure and lifestyle. I was able to get a fully funded placement and international student fee waiver for three years to finish my degree.

Here’s a summary of some of the best countries you could do you PhD in if you want to do it for free.

CountryPhD FeesAdditional Costs or Benefits
Czech RepublicNo FeesAdditional costs for international students
SwedenNo FeesStudy grants for some PhD students
GermanyNo Fees€300 administration fee per semester
AustriaNo Fees for EU/EEA students who finish on timeFees for international students, capped by the government
NorwayNo FeesSmall semester fee
DenmarkNo Fees for EU, EEA, and Swiss studentsHigh fees for international students
FinlandNo FeesFees for Masters programs for international students
Saudi ArabiaNo FeesAll fees covered by scholarships, including living costs
NetherlandsNot universally freeMany institutions offer free PhD study to international students, some classify them as employees with potential salary/benefits
SwitzerlandLow Fees (CHF 1500/year)State-funded PhD places with no fees and a maintenance grant for EU, EEA, Swiss students

In the Czech Republic, public universities host a multitude of English-language PhD programs and these programs are free for all PhD students, irrespective of their nationality. However, additional costs may be incurred by international students which might include language courses, health insurance, or student services fees, depending on the university policies.

Sweden maintains a unique policy that not only eradicates PhD fees at public universities but also provides study grants to some PhD students, which serves as a financial aid for their living expenses during the tenure of their studies.

In Germany, public universities offer feeless PhD programs to all students. However, a nominal administration fee, approximately €300 per semester, is required. This fee usually covers student services and perks like public transportation and access to university facilities.

Austria‘s policy benefits PhD students from within the EU and EEA who complete their doctorates within a stipulated time frame, offering free education at public research universities. International students, on the other hand, have to pay fees, which, nonetheless, are capped by the Austrian government to maintain affordability.

Norway, like its Nordic counterparts, offers free PhD education at public universities to all students, regardless of their origin. But a small semester fee, usually covering student services, is obligatory.

Denmark also practices a policy of free PhD education for EU, EEA, and Swiss students at public universities, but international students are required to pay fees, which are generally on the higher side compared to other European countries.

Finland doesn’t discriminate in terms of nationality and offers free PhD studies at public universities. However, international students are charged for their Masters programs.

Saudi Arabia stands out with its unique policy where all PhD students are awarded scholarships that automatically cover their education fees, as well as help them with living expenses.

In the Netherlands, PhD study isn’t universally free, but many institutions extend the offer of free PhD study to international postgraduates. Some universities consider the PhD students as university employees, offering them a waiver on fees and potentially a salary or benefits.

Switzerland, although not offering free PhD studies, keeps its fees low at around CHF 1500 per year at public universities. State-funded PhD positions are also available to EU, EEA, and Swiss students that come with no fees and a maintenance grant.

Top tips for finding a PhD for free.

Here are the top tips I would give you when Choosing a free PhD.

  1. Apply to STEM programs: Many PhD (and Master’s) programs, especially in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) fields, are fully funded in the US. Most state schools and Ivy League schools have fully funded programs for these fields.
  2. Prepare for stiff competition: Because these programs are fully funded, the competition is high. It’s not uncommon for hundreds or even thousands of students to apply to these programs each year, with only a small fraction being accepted.
  3. Consider assistantships: Fully-funded programs usually provide a stipend in the form of Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) or Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) positions. These roles involve either teaching or conducting research under a professor’s supervision.
  4. Be ready for some costs: Despite tuition being covered, you may still need to cover some school fees, student insurance, and other miscellaneous expenditures.
  5. Don’t consider unfunded programs: Many graduate programs do not fund students, but experts advise against attending these schools. The availability of funding indicates the health of the department in terms of research money and growth.
  6. Work on your application: The application process generally starts around September to December. Standardized tests such as GRE and TOEFL/IELTS are required, along with transcripts, recommendation letters, and a statement of purpose.
  7. Avoid programs that require you to pay: It’s a common sentiment among experts that if you’re paying to be a PhD student, there might be something wrong with the program.
  8. Apply for fellowships: There are graduate fellowships available for international students that cover tuition and offer a monthly stipend.

Fully funded online PhD programs in the US

Here are some examples of PhD programs in the states that are free and fully funded:


  • University of California—Los Angeles, Department of English: PhD in English
    • Applicants to the Ph.D. in English program at UCLA are automatically considered for various funding options. A six-year funding package includes “a minimum of two years of full fellowship, four years of summer stipend support, and up to four years of teaching assistantships.” Beyond tuition, fees and health insurance are also covered.


  • Yale University, School of Nursing: PhD in Nursing
    • At Yale University, the School of Nursing offers full funding to its Ph.D. students. They receive a monthly stipend for four years in addition to paid tuition and health care.

District of Columbia

  • Georgetown University, Department of Computer Science: PhD in Computer Science
    • Georgetown University offers scholarships and assistantships that cover full tuition and include a stipend and health insurance for the first five years to students in its PhD program in computer science.


  • Emory University: Ph.D. in Economics
    • Students enrolled in the economics Ph.D. program at Emory University typically receive full funding. The stipend provided to students is $36,376 per year for five years, starting in fall 2023, and the full tuition scholarship is worth $70,200 per year. Funding for admitted students also includes a $4,370 annual subsidy that covers 100% of a student’s cost of health insurance. First-year students have no stipend-related work requirements.


  • University of Chicago, Department of Anthropology: PhD in Anthropology
    • The University of Chicago provides funding for up to eight years of study for its anthropology PhD students. This includes a full-tuition scholarship, health insurance, and a living stipend of $33,000 for the 2022-2023 academic year. Students are also eligible to apply for external fellowships.


  • University of Notre Dame, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures: Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures
    • University of Notre Dame doctoral students are guaranteed five years of funding. Funding includes a full scholarship, including tuition and fees, plus a stipend and health insurance.


  • University of Iowa, Tippie College of Business: PhD in Business
    • The Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa provides full funding to “virtually all admitted students.” This includes tuition and fees, a minimum nine-month stipend of about $20,000 with annual adjustments, and 90% coverage of comprehensive health insurance. Additional funding is also provided for research presentations at major conferences, summer fellowships, and paid time off for independent research.


  • University of Maryland, Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies: Ph.D. in Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies
    • At the University of Maryland’s Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Ph.D. students without a master’s degree usually have five years of guaranteed funding. Those with a master’s degree usually are funded four years, with awards stemming from a mix of departmental fellowships and graduate teaching assistantships.


  • Harvard University, T.H. Chan School of Public Health: PhD in Biological Sciences in Public Health
    • The T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University offers a PhD in biological sciences in public health, providing expertise in disease prevention and treatment. This program includes tuition, a stipend, and health insurance for five years, assuming students maintain satisfactory academic progress. Current research involves diseases such as AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, malaria, and tuberculosis.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management: PhD in Business
    • Students enrolled at the Sloan School of Management at MIT have the opportunity to study various fields, such as organization studies, accounting, and information technology. They receive a full-tuition scholarship, a monthly stipend of $4,267, medical insurance, new laptops at the start of their first and fourth years of study, and $4,500 over five years for conference travel expenses.
  • Boston University, Department of English: Ph.D. in English
    • Doctoral students studying English at Boston University receive a stipend plus full tuition, fees, and basic health insurance. This funding is guaranteed for at least five years, with two of those years typically free from teaching requirements. Funding can sometimes be extended up to seven years, but it’s not guaranteed. Students may also apply for various prizes, fellowships, and short-term research and travel grants.


  • University of Michigan—Ann Arbor, College of Engineering: Ph.D. in Engineering
    • Doctoral students in engineering at the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor are guaranteed full funding, a monthly living stipend, and health insurance. The exact amount can vary and funding comes from a range of sources, including graduate student instructor positions and fellowships.


  • University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, Department of Psychology: Ph.D. in Psychology
    • Students admitted to the Ph.D. program to study psychology at the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities are guaranteed full funding for five years as long as they maintain satisfactory performance and degree progress. This funding includes full-time tuition, a nine-month stipend, and subsidized health insurance.


  • Washington University in St. Louis, School of Engineering & Applied Science: PhD in Computer Science
    • PhD students in computer science or computer engineering at Washington University in St. Louis receive full tuition support, health insurance, a generous stipend for living expenses, and a new high-end Apple laptop computer. This support is guaranteed as long as students continue to make satisfactory progress towards their degree.

New York

  • New York University, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development: Ph.D. in Education
    • Full-time NYU Steinhardt Ph.D. students are eligible for a funding package that includes an annual stipend – $32,000 for the 2022-2023 academic year – tuition coverage for required coursework and student health insurance for five years.
  • Binghamton University—SUNY, School of Management: Ph.D. in Management
    • All students admitted to the interdisciplinary management Ph.D. program at the Binghamton University—SUNY School of Management in New York receive a combination of a full-tuition scholarship and a teaching or research assistantship for each academic year, up to four years.
  • Cornell University, College of Engineering: PhD in Chemical Engineering
    • Cornell University offers full funding to all students admitted to its PhD program in chemical engineering. This funding can come from a teaching assistantship, research assistantship, or fellowship, and full stipends are granted for nine months, with the likelihood of additional aid in the summer.
  • Columbia University, Teachers College: PhD in Clinical Psychology
    • Columbia University provides fully funded tuition and a $25,000 annual stipend for three years to students enrolled in its PhD program in clinical psychology. This stipend also carries into the student’s fourth year, during which they may be expected to serve as a graduate teaching or research assistant.

North Carolina

  • Duke University: Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering
    • Doctoral students at Duke University studying materials science and engineering generally receive full tuition, a stipend, and fee support for the first five years. Students also receive up to six years of health insurance if they are on the university’s student medical insurance plan.


  • University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education: Ph.D. in Education
    • The University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education provides full funding to Ph.D. students as part of a fellowship and research apprenticeship package. This funding includes a living stipend, health insurance and coverage of tuition and fees for up to four years if the student maintains full-time enrollment. Some students may also qualify for additional summer funding.
  • Bryn Mawr College: Ph.D. in Social Work
    • Students admitted to Bryn Mawr College’s Ph.D. program in social work receive full tuition waivers and “substantial stipends” toward living expenses.
  • University of Notre Dame, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures: Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures
    • University of Notre Dame doctoral students are guaranteed five years of funding. Funding includes a full scholarship, including tuition and fees, plus a stipend and health insurance.

Rhode Island

  • Brown University, Department of Computer Science: PhD in Computer Science
    • Brown University guarantees full financial support for five years to its PhD students in computer science. This includes tuition remission, a stipend, health services fees, and a subsidy for health insurance.


  • Vanderbilt University, Peabody College of Education and Human Development: Ph.D. in Special Education
    • Funding is guaranteed for all admitted doctoral students enrolled in the special education Ph.D. program at Vanderbilt University. This includes full tuition, a “competitive” monthly stipend, and health insurance for up to four years.


  • Rice University, Jones Graduate School of Business: PhD in Business
    • Rice University offers full financial assistance to students admitted to the PhD program at the Jones Graduate School of Business. This includes a research or teaching assistantship, a tuition waiver, and a $40,000 annual stipend, contingent upon maintaining satisfactory academic progress and full-time student status.


  • University of Virginia, School of Nursing: Ph.D. in Nursing
    • All students admitted to the University of Virginia’s Ph.D. in Nursing program are eligible for four years of scholarship funding to cover tuition, insurance, and fees, as well as annual stipends. To receive certain aid, students must work 10 hours per week as a graduate teaching assistant.

Washington D.C.

  • Georgetown University, Department of Computer Science: PhD in Computer Science
    • Georgetown University offers scholarships and assistantships that cover full tuition and include a stipend and health insurance for the first five years to students in its PhD program in computer science.
  • American University: Ph.D. in International Relations
    • American University offers doctoral students in its international relations program who do not have external funding a renewable four-year Dean’s Fellowship that is contingent on making satisfactory academic progress. The fellowship includes the cost of tuition, fees, and a stipend that must be earned via a part-time role as a teaching or research assistant.


  • University of Wisconsin—Madison, School of Education: PhD in Counseling Psychology
    • The University of Wisconsin—Madison guarantees full funding for the duration of the time doctoral students are expected to be on campus. This funding may come from financial aid, fellowships, assistantships, and/or traineeships. In addition, doctoral students receive a benefits package that includes health insurance.

Wrapping up

This comprehensive article delves into everything you need to know about free PhD programs, also known as fully funded PhD programs, including the essential details, benefits, and potential challenges that students may encounter.

The term “free PhD” generally refers to a fully funded program that covers tuition fees and provides a stipend for living expenses, allowing students to complete their PhD studies without financial burden.

It is crucial to understand why you should never enter a PhD program without proper funding. Hence, pursuing a free or fully funded PhD should be a priority for all PhD students, regardless of nationality or field of study.

These programs may be offered both online and on-campus by various top universities around the world.

Fully funded PhD programs cater to both international and local students, including those pursuing a traditional PhD, online doctorate, or an accelerated executive doctorate of education.

For instance, fully funded online PhD programs in fields like business administration, education policy, and social work in clinical practice are available for students who hold master’s or bachelor’s degrees.

The duration of these programs may range from 1 year for fast-track or shortest doctoral programs to several years for other disciplines. Moreover, many programs focus on specialization in subjects like higher education policy, laboratory research, and much more.

One of the perks of these programs is that many institutions provide a stipend to cover living expenses during the course of study, ensuring that students can focus entirely on their research without worrying about financial constraints.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.