YES! That is the short but truthful answer. Yes, yes, and yes! Between available grants and scholarships for masters students and assistantships, fellowships, and research assisting opportunities for doctoral students, pursuing a graduate education is doable. If I can do it, you can do it. And no, you won’t need to eat Ramen noodles every meal.
First, if you are a potential masters student there are always supplemental aid opportunities. Because Masters degrees are typically two years long, the light at the end of tunnel is not far away. The turnaround to pay off any loans is therefore a quick one.
Second, if you are a doctoral student I would go so far as to say “Don’t go to a program that does not have some type of funding source.” Doctoral programs typically provide fellowship or research assisting opportunities for students. These allow you to kill two birds with one stone. That is, the work you do in these roles will also count toward your growth and development as a scholar and progress as a student. When there is no such opportunity, then the next best option is to seek an assistantship. Assistantships are similar to work-study opportunities you find as an undergrad or masters student. However, the difference is that assistantships often cover all of your tuition AND provide a stipend. So even though these are not the gold mines that fellowships and research assisting are they still provide the financial assistance anyone would want.
Now back to my first point. If none of these opportunities are available as a potential doctoral student, then I would recommend you seriously consider applying to said program. Why? Because doctoral programs can be evaluated by the money brought in by the faculty. Is that a fair measure for evaluation? Absolutely. Ask around with those familiar with the doctoral world, you will find that most would agree that a strong department made of strong faculty is one in which the faculty–by and large–bring in research funding. It is a fair measuring stick. It doesn’t need to be the only way to measure, but it should be a measure. Definitely.
So can you afford graduate school? You bet.
It consumed me. For two months I would awake naturally around 5:30 am then read and write until 10:00 pm, breaking only to eat and use the washroom. For these two months I had energy like I seldom do. In fact, it was a stretch of production that I have never experienced before. I literally did nothing but think critically and articulate my thoughts each day, all day, for these two months. But why?
The doctoral degree process is a rite of passage. It requires that the student demonstrate a minimum level of acquired knowledge and research ability while on the path to obtaining the PhD. In order to do this successfully, certain milestones must be reached and a major milestone is the “qualifying” process. Essentially, the doctoral student must show a mastery of the major influences the field in which they study and therefore “qualify” to continue in the pursuit of their degree and advance toward the beginning of the dissertation.
In my program, we are required to submit an online “dossier.” This electronic dossier is a declaration of my statement as a potential PhD candidate as well as highlight the major actions taken in the areas of research, teaching, and service. My dossier was the single reason I spent so much time and energy they way I did for the past two months. My desk was covered with articles and manila folders to separate the various topics I needed to master. Additionally the area two feet to the left and right of my desk was piled a foot high with books and other prominent readings. This small space served as my battle station for two months.
I would wake up at 5:30 and immediately turn on my desk light, power on my computer, light the candle on my desk, and grab some water from the fridge. My mind would not allow me to deviate too much beyond this routine. Within about ten minutes I was seated and ready to go. Each day I would reread the entire dossier and determine where I should devote most of my effort that day. I had zero temptation to check on the score of the ballgame, watch TV, take a nap, or otherwise. Before I realized what was happening several weeks passed by. Then, before I knew it two months had passed by and I had submitted my dossier.
As it now stands I am 4 days away from my oral defense of my already-submitted dossier. I will then be judged by two faculty member in my program who are not my advisers. I am almost there, almost done. Looking back it is clear that the process consumed me. I hope this reflection is helpful for you. Remember, the PhD is a rite of passage; we must demonstrate that we know our stuff to progress on the path toward the PhD degree. It can be done, certainly. But it requires nothing more exotic than steady, simple, and relentless work.
I must make a confession. I come from a place (Bay Area, California) where the typical city has nearly hundreds of thousands of residents…and some cities have well over 1 million. My hometown of San Jose, CA is a residential city and yet still has well over 1 million residents. So naturally the overall size of the average city or town in the Midwest was a culture shock at first. Driving through Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois I say hour after hour of vast rural and agricultural land.
Then I arrived in Bloomington. Now Bloomington is certainly not San Jose or San Francisco. Nor is it not Chicago–or Indianapolis, for that matter. But as a fan of boxing, I use this metaphor: for its size, Bloomington packs a serious punch. I think the analogy holds. Here’s why.
First, Indiana University is a large research institution. Therefore, enrollment is in the tens of thousands. This makes the population of Bloomington particularly high. So based strictly on numbers Bloomington is larger than most Midwest towns, especially those in Indiana. Indianapolis is about one hour to the north and Louisville is two hours to the south. Aside from that there is not much going on in southern Indiana in terms of large cities or tens of thousands of people en masse.
Second, Indiana University is an international university. As a result, you see a thousands of international students. That translates into one thing: lots of fantastic, authentic, first-generation-caliber ethnic culture…especially food. That in itself is not particularly common in the Midwest; but in the state of Indiana that is EXTREMELY uncommon. There are dozens of ethnic restaurant options, dancing options, etc.
For these two reasons Bloomington as a city is a big fish in the small pond of rural southern Indiana. In no other part of the region will you find anything remotely similar in terms of numbers or cultural diversity. But these are the distinguishing features that makes Bloomington so unique.