For 80 percent of those who earn a graduate degree, it comes with a hefty price tag of $120,000 or more in student debt. But taking out massive loans isn’t the only way to get a high-paying graduate degree. If you look around, it’s easy to find fully funded grad programs that cover tuition plus stipends of $25,000 a year or more.
What makes these programs attractive is that they don’t require chasing down competitive external scholarships (though you will need a solid GPA and entrance exam scores). In many doctoral programs, as well as some master’s programs, students receive full funding in exchange for roughly 20 hours per week of research or teaching duties.[Related: Top 10 Big City Alternatives for Grads Who Are Burdened with Debt]
Of course, there is an opportunity cost to not working full-time. The trade-off is worth it to many students, though, who are able to finish grad school debt-free and ready to move into a lucrative career. We’ve put together a list of grad degrees that you can get for free, looking at average salary and stipend, plus the prevalence of funding and potential job opportunities.
Average master’s salary: $69,698
Average Ph.D. salary: $88,397
Average annual stipend for funded programs: $26,570
Engineering grads are in high demand, with loads of career options spanning chemical, electrical, environmental and civil engineering. Depending on the program, financial support may be tied to academic merit. Schools with funded programs include the University of Illinois, University of Virginia, Rutgers School of Engineering and Michigan State University.
2. Physical Sciences
Average master’s salary: $72,500
Average Ph.D. salary: $90,300
Average annual stipend for funded programs: $26,034
Many chemistry and physics graduate programs are fully funded, both at the master’s and Ph.D. levels. These degrees can open doors to a variety of highly paid careers. Funded programs can be found at schools like University of Texas at Austin, University of Michigan and University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
3. Biological Sciences
Average master’s salary: $70,080
Average Ph.D. salary: $83,051
Average annual stipend for funded programs: $29,540
Biological sciences encompass a wide variety of fields, including biology, ecology, biochemistry and pharmacology. Plus, you’ll find a good selection of funded master’s programs, which are harder to find in non-scientific tracks.
It’s not just top tier schools funding graduate degrees. Many smaller universities and state schools also provide financial support. Check out schools like University of Massachusetts Boston, University of Delaware, University of San Francisco and University of Florida.
4. Environmental Sciences
Average master’s salary: $51,417
Average Ph.D. salary: $62,250
Average annual stipend for funded programs: $24,540
An advanced degree in environmental sciences can earn you big money in careers like environmental consulting, energy, mining or research. While Ph.D. funding is more common, funding for master’s students is also available at many universities. Schools with strong funding packages include University of North Carolina, University of Virginia, University of Utah and University of Oregon.
Average master’s salary: $53,380
Average Ph.D. salary: $68,460
Average annual stipend for funded programs: $18,121
Funding for master’s programs in psychology is often available on a competitive basis. Funded programs include the College of William and Mary, Ball State University, Boston College and New York University.
6. Computer Science
Average master’s salary: $71,140
Average Ph.D. salary: $94,000
Average annual stipend for funded programs: $24,870
A funded master’s in computer science is rare. For strong students looking for a Ph.D. in computer science, options include Harvard, Stanford, Cornell, Columbia and Duke University.
Average master’s salary: $72,100
Average Ph.D. salary: $110,317
Average annual stipend for funded programs: $22,520
Fully funded Ph.D. programs in economics include Washington University in St. Louis, University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Cornell and Harvard. The University of Maine and George Mason University are among the few offering funded master’s programs.
Average master’s salary: $67,890
Average Ph.D. salary: $58,000
Average annual stipend for funded programs: $40,510
You can find funded Ph.D. programs in business at Ohio State University, University of Southern California, Duke University and Stanford Business School. There are fewer funded master’s in business administration (MBA) programs. Options include UMass Amherst and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
Average master’s salary: $110,310
Average Ph.D. salary: $93,500
Average annual stipend for funded programs: $24,980
Law programs offering full financial support aren’t very common, but they’re easier to find if you’re going for a Ph.D. or a combination Ph.D.-JD (Juris Doctor). Schools offering funded law degrees include Vanderbilt University, Northwestern, Yale and Arizona State University.
These are just a few of the schools offering fully funded graduate programs. If you’re thinking of going to graduate school, it pays to look around and find a school that offers some type of funding.
While some degrees will lead you into academic or research fields, others will allow you to work in high-earning corporate jobs. Grad school is a huge commitment, so it’s crucial you make sure you’re going for the right reasons, and not just because you can go for free.