Skip to main content

PhD Student Funding FAQs

General funding

What are the current stipend and tuition rates?

The current stipend rate can be found on the About Graduate Funding page, and current tuition rates can be found on the Student Finance website. The stipend rate is set by the dean of The Graduate School (TGS) and the budget office, and approved by the provost. This rate is typically announced during the winter quarter for the following year. Tuition rates are set by the provost’s office and approved by the Board of Trustees each spring. These rates are typically announced during the spring quarter.

Who determines a student’s funding sources (e.g., whether a student will be paid on a fellowship or graduate assistantship)?

Each program determines on a quarterly basis whether or not students will be funded using TGS funds or other sources (e.g., grants). When TGS funds are used, the program determines if this will be through a fellowship or graduate assistantship for each student. Students should refer to their admissions offer letter or program staff regarding their individual funding.

Are PhD students responsible for paying any fees out-of-pocket?

PhD student funding covers tuition, stipend and a health insurance subsidy.  Any other fees, such as the activity fee, are paid by the student.

How is a PhD student’s funding affected when registered for TGS 512 (Continuous Registration)?

Students do not receive funding (stipend or tuition scholarship) when registered for TGS 512 and are not eligible for the health insurance subsidy. In addition, they do not pay the activity fee and are not eligible for U-Pass. The current tuition charge for TGS 512 is $100/quarter.

Is PhD funding different for international students?

In general, international students are funded the same as domestic students.  However, international students must pass TGS's English Proficiency Requirement before they can be funded as a graduate assistant/TA. 

What other funding opportunities are available?

Additional funding opportunities may be available based on eligibility through The Office of Fellowships, the Evanston Office of Financial Aid (loans), Interdisciplinary Graduate Assistantships (GAships), or TGS Internal Fellowships/Grants. It is the student’s responsibility to obtain approval from their program and coordinate other funding opportunities.

How do external fellowships affect my funding?

Your Northwestern funding package will be adjusted when you obtain external funding. You do not receive external fellowships on top of your full Northwestern funding.

What is the process when a PhD student’s tuition/fees are financially supported by direct billing to a 3rd party sponsor?

If a 3rd party sponsor, such as an employer or scholarship sponsor, pays for a student’s tuition/fees upfront and without any stipulations, then it may fall under third party billing in which case the Student Finance department can set up a third party billing plan and invoice the sponsor directly; however, before they can do this, the student would need to provide them with an official sponsorship letter. The letter needs to be on company/sponsor letterhead and it needs to include the following information:

  • Type of charges that will be covered (tuition, activity fee, student health plan, etc.)
  • Coverage period (for example: Fall 2021 or 2021-2022 academic year)
  • Address/email address where invoice should be sent
  • Address where any refund/overpayment should be returned
The letter should be sent to Once the student is enrolled and billed, Student Finance will generate a third party invoice and send it to the sponsor in accordance with the sponsorship letter. All questions regarding 3rd party billing should be directed to the Student Finance department.

Funding timeline

How many quarters of funding does a PhD student receive?  

PhD students in the Humanities and Social Sciences receive 20 quarters (5 full years) of funding. In most programs additional quarters may be banked through the fifth year and used in the sixth year (see below). PhD students in the Sciences and Engineering are typically funded for at least five years through a combination of funding by The Graduate School (TGS) and adviser/program funding. Graduate student funding is a shared responsibility. While financial commitments are made to PhD students for a set number of years, it is important to understand that the overall graduate funding budget is dependent on a significant number of PhD students obtaining external funding.

During what months/quarters are PhD stipends paid?

PhD students are paid year round including over the breaks while they are registered full-time (other than TGS 512), and the funding quarters do not exactly match the academic quarters. For example, the first stipend payment for new students is for the period of 9/1 – 9/30 even though classes do not start until late September (e.g., 9/22 for Fall 2018). Conversely, a student who graduates in the Spring quarter (completes in May) is paid through 5/31 even though classes run a couple of weeks into June. Students receive 3 months of stipend for each quarter although the timing does not exactly match the academic schedule. Below are the funding quarters:

  • Fall: September – November
  • Winter: December – February
  • Spring: March – May
  • Summer: June- August

How does providing interdisciplinary GAships, or other TGS funding, to PhD students in their sixth and seventh year result in extra expense?

The Graduate School’s budget is established on an annual basis to provide the financial resources to fund students in their first through fifth years, plus the proportion of PhD students who are typically funded on banked quarters in their sixth year. If a student outside of this group (i.e., an advanced year student not using banked funding) were to be funded on a TGS quarter of funding, such as an interdisciplinary GAship, it would result in an additional unbudgeted expense (see diagram below).

Is the funding for each program customized based on average time to degree?

No. The University’s funding commitment is standard across all PhD programs. It is not tied to time to degree in order to maximize the funding available to as many students as possible.

What funding from The Graduate School is limited to a PhD student’s first five years?

Any TGS quarters of funding, outside of eligible banked quarters, such as interdisciplinary GAships, cluster quarters, and competitively-awarded fellowships, such as the Nicholson Fellowship, Buffet Fellowship, etc., are limited to a PhD student’s first five years.

What funding options are available to a PhD student after their fifth year?

At the home school’s discretion, eligible banked quarters may be used through a PhD student’s sixth year in the Humanities and Social Sciences. In addition, there is no limitation on funding from outside of The Graduate School, external funding from outside of the University, or scholarships related to external funding. In addition, TGS continues to provide research assistant scholarships (RAS), health subsidies, and tuition scholarships for PhD students with external funding beyond 5 years across disciplines.

Since most PhD students in the Sciences and Engineering currently receive less than 6 quarters of allocated funding from TGS, is there a plan to increase this amount?

Yes. It is a strategic priority of TGS to request additional funds to support PhD students in STEM programs.

When a PhD student graduates, when does their stipend end?

A PhD student will receive a stipend payout through the last day of the month during which they submit their final graduation materials.

Banked quarters (humanities and social sciences PhD students)

Can PhD students bank some of their funding to be used later? 

At the home school’s discretion, most Humanities and Social Sciences PhD students may use up to 4 banked quarters to extend their funding through their sixth year. Banked quarters are earned in years 1-5 when a student is funded on quarters outside of their 20 allocated quarters from TGS, such as through interdisciplinary GAships, external fellowships, grant funding, etc. Please check with your program staff or dean’s office to determine if your program participates in banked quarters.

Are banking policies consistent between schools?

The Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences (WCAS) has a formal banking policy that is consistent across most programs. Currently, it is standard in most programs for WCAS Humanities and Social Sciences PhD students to use banked quarters through their sixth year. Please check with your program staff or dean’s office to determine if your program participates in banked quarters.

Additional income/funding

In addition to their stipend, can a PhD student perform additional work for pay?

In order for a student to perform additional work for pay, program staff must submit a Permission to Work form if any of the following thresholds are exceeded:

  • Student will work more than 10 hours/week
  • Time period of service is more than one month
  • Compensation is $600 or more

Students ideally should work no more than 15-20 hours total per week. Students are responsible for verifying that additional work for pay is permitted based on their funding source (e.g., NSF GRFP, etc.).

How does a student obtain loans?

Email the Evanston Office of Graduate Financial Aid at

Withholdings and deductions 

Why can’t federal taxes be automatically withheld from graduate student fellowships?

Even though graduate student fellowships are considered taxable income, federal law does not require taxes to be withheld, and the amount to withhold varies by individual. To help avoid a significant tax payment at the end of the year, students are encouraged to complete a W-4 Form and indicate an amount they would like Payroll to withhold from each stipend payment. Learn more in the Taxes section.

Why can’t the student activity fee be automatically deducted from stipend payments?

There is not currently a mechanism in place across the multiple University systems to automatically deduct the student activity fee. If a student activity fee is not paid on time, a registration hold may be placed on the account and a late fee may be charged. Be sure to check your student account on a regular basis.

Undocumented/DACA funding 

How are undocumented or DACA students funded?

Undocumented students who are not authorized to work in the U.S. must be funded on fellowships for their entire tenure in the program. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a.k.a. Dreamers) students who have work authorization may be funded on assistantships or fellowships.

Healthcare subsidy 

Who is eligible for the health care subsidy?

All TGS students who are registered full-time (3-4 units), except for TGS 512, during the fall quarter are eligible for the healthcare subsidy for the full academic year (Sep 1-Aug 31). The subsidy is automatically applied during the fall quarter as long as the student is enrolled in the Northwestern health insurance plan.