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Thread: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

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    Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

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    Hey urchers

    I have an offer from Berkeley I'm planning to accept. The one drawback is that the funding package is very weak. I have some savings, but I'm not sure my savings will cover all the shortfall from the funding package, especially given high cost of living in the Bay.

    I know this situation isn't singular, as plenty people apparently make low Berkeley funding work, and other schools offer weakly funded acceptances - eg no funding in the first year.

    I wonder: How do students tend to make ends meet when the stipend and personal savings aren't enough to cover everything? I'm asking in the American context, so, are Federal loans in the picture for some people to help smooth consumption? What else do people draw on?

    I know summer RA/TAships will also add a bit to overall income, but I'd like to know about what resources people draw on when this still falls a bit short. Of course there are also grants to apply for, but you never know for sure if you'll get one. So I'm particularly interested in the more reliable resources out there.

    Thanks!

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    Quote Originally Posted by jjrousseau View Post
    Hey urchers

    I have an offer from Berkeley I'm planning to accept. The one drawback is that the funding package is very weak. I have some savings, but I'm not sure my savings will cover all the shortfall from the funding package, especially given high cost of living in the Bay.

    I know this situation isn't singular, as plenty people apparently make low Berkeley funding work, and other schools offer weakly funded acceptances - eg no funding in the first year.

    I wonder: How do students tend to make ends meet when the stipend and personal savings aren't enough to cover everything? I'm asking in the American context, so, are Federal loans in the picture for some people to help smooth consumption? What else do people draw on?

    I know summer RA/TAships will also add a bit to overall income, but I'd like to know about what resources people draw on when this still falls a bit short. Of course there are also grants to apply for, but you never know for sure if you'll get one. So I'm particularly interested in the more reliable resources out there.

    Thanks!
    Ask during the visit day - I just got back from one, also with weak funding, and the graduate students were very frank about the funding and offered advice on how to make it work based on their own experience. They are an especially good resource because choices such as where to live can make a huge difference, and are school-specific. I don't see any reason why they would hold back.

    Loans are an option - check out the financial aid office for your school. Though if you have student loans from undergrad... that would be tough.

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    I went to Berkeley had a somewhat similar situation. First, many people take out loans to smooth consumption, etc. Second, double check this with the DGS, but my suspicion is that you'd likely have a TA or RA job in years 2 and beyond. So it is just a matter of making it through the first year.

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    Be very cautious about attending a school without funding. Especially one in an area with a high COL.

    What is your next best option? Perhaps request to defer admission for one year and try again? That is, work an RA job, improve your profile, and apply only to a handful of comparable schools. If you get a funded offer at a good school, you will save yourself several tens of thousands of dollars. If that doesn't work out, what have you really lost?

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    Appreciate the replies so far. I'll definitely ask some folks at visit day.

    Quote Originally Posted by tm_member View Post
    Be very cautious about attending a school without funding. Especially one in an area with a high COL.

    What is your next best option? Perhaps request to defer admission for one year and try again? That is, work an RA job, improve your profile, and apply only to a handful of comparable schools. If you get a funded offer at a good school, you will save yourself several tens of thousands of dollars. If that doesn't work out, what have you really lost?
    @tm_member, my next best option is Michigan, which I perceive to be relatively distant from Berkeley. I'm already 4 years of full-time RA work removed from undergrad, so I'm definitely going to start a program this fall. To me, something on the order of 20k-30k seems worth it for a significantly better PhD experience with likely better job placement (in fact I've already revealed this preference by extending 2 years of RA work into 4 with a relatively low salary, where outside options were much higher).

    Do you think my reasoning is off the mark here? If not, then the question is really just about the certainty that I will have access to some loans etc to help make it through.

    -- To be clear, my Berkeley offer is not totally unfunded. It's effectively an unfunded first year, with TA funding after that, which I hear is not terribly uncommon at Berkeley these days. I have some savings, but not a ton.

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    I certainly wouldn't delay another year if I had an offer from Michigan. So, it's either Berkeley or Michigan. If you can make Berkeley work on $20-30k for first year, it probably makes sense to go ahead and borrow to smooth consumption. If it would be more like $50k... the issue becomes more complex.

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    There is no doubt un my mind that you should accept the offer. As you say, 30k is a small price to pay for studying in a much better university. Furthermore, you are American, in that way the only cost for you is the money. In my case, if I wanted to attend a place unfunded I would have to return to my country immediately after finishing my PhD.

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    Cool. So assuming I'm set on making Berkeley work then, what are the common ways of doing this? Maybe the better way to phrase this is, if I need a loan, where do people usually turn? Do schools tend to have their own loans available; are federal loans more common; do people take private loans (I'm hoping not since those are probably harsher on interest rates)?

    Thanks!

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD

    And, is there ever any serious concern that some sort of loan (short of a payday loan) will not be available, or can I count on having something accessible? I would rather not find out halfway through that I have no more liquidity.

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    Re: Loans etc for unfunded or weakly funded PhD


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