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While visiting friends and family over the holidays, I was surprised by the number of people asking how I am paying for graduate school.

Lots of loans?

Not a lot of people know, so I thought I’d share: attending graduate school in a hard science is typically free.

You see, generally, when someone attends graduate school in a field such as Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Math, Physics…, their tuition is paid for in full and they get a salary on top of that.

This is the case as long as you do work for the department by being a Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant, Grader…or some job. Typical grad student salary is roughly between $15,000 and$25,000 a year, plus health benefits. (Pay, of course, depends on the institution, department, job, and the % of time committed.)

One difference between graduate students in physics doing research in “theory” vs “experiment” is that, generally, there are more positions and more money available for students to do experimental research. Students who work on theory research typically teach some or most of their years in graduate school, while students who work on experimental research typically do not teach past their 2nd year of graduate school (and are paid entirely as a research assistant). That’s only in general.

So, different strokes for different folks (see others’ posts about doing research in theory: 1, 2, 3), but in the end, either way, grad school tuition is free, and students get paid on top of that.