Ph.D. wannabe? Funding opportunities “for dummies”.

As you decide to apply to a Ph.D. program you might find yourself wondering how you are going to finance yourself for the next five years. The first thing that you need to know is that it is very uncommon to be admitted to a school without funding, especially in the United States. Indeed, schools usually either admit you with funding or do not admit you at all. Sometimes however this might happen and, in this case, it is useful to know which sources of private funding you could access to.

Private scholarships differ in length and conditions and might adapt to different students’ needs. Each of them has its own, separate, application for which you will usually have to provide a motivation letter, a research proposal, your transcript of grades and one or more recommendation letters. It is important to notice that most of these scholarships are not only intended for students willing to pursue a Ph.D. but also for Ph.D. students. Hence, if you are unsuccessful the first time you apply, you could always do it again during your doctoral studies. Sure enough, submitting your Ph.D. applications with one of these scholarship is a plus, not only because the University will have to invest less money to have you, most beneficiaries still receive fully funded offers, but rather because it signals that you are an outstanding student. However, applying as a Ph.D. student is also a very good option. Indeed, while Ph.D. students are mostly required to focus on coursework during first year (or two), they will then be required to either teach or do some research assistantship work. Having a source of external funding in your second or third year would represent a unique opportunity to focus on your research projects. For instance, some of the students who did this in the past had the chance to spend a considerable amount of time doing data collection and field work in developing countries and hence constructing unique datasets for their empirical work.

In general, my advice would be to apply for these scholarships as you are also applying for your Ph.D. but, if you do not manage to prepare all the material in time, always keep in mind that you could still apply once you have started your doctoral studies and that doing so, may benefit your research projects considerably.

As an Italian citizen, the scholarships I would recommend considering are:

  • Stringher, Banca d’Italia: three scholarships issued by Banca d’Italia and directed to students who graduated in Economics or Political Economy. In order to apply you need to have graduated with a minimum grade of 110/110, to prove English proficiency and to be an Italian citizen. The scholarship pays for your tuition fees and provides the student with 27,000 euro to pay for living expenses. It is intended to last one year but it is possible to renew it for an additional year. One aspect that makes the Stringher a particularly appealing scholarship, in my opinion, is that applicants who are considered outstanding but do not win the scholarship might still be selected for an internship at the Banca d’Italia that will usually takes place in the summer. There, interns will have the chance to learn how research is performed in a central bank and to work on unique data. Deadline: October. (
  • Guido Cazzavillan, Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia: this scholarship is intended for Italian students who have graduated in Italy before December of the year of application. It is worth 24,000 euro and pays for tuition fees as well. Deadline: end of October. (
  • Marco Fanno e Crivelli Europe, UniCredit & Universities foundation: these two scholarships issued by UniCredit & Universities foundation are dedicated to students with any nationality who graduated from any Italian university. Candidates must graduate with a minimum grade of 110/110 in the fields of economics, banking or finance. English proficiency is required. The scholarship is worth 25,000 euro and will additionally pay for tuition fees. Upon request, it can be renewed for an additional year. Moreover, students can apply for the scholarship once they have already started their graduate studies, however, the scientific committee will give priority to candidates starting their Ph.D. in the subsequent fall. Even in this case, UniCredit might offer to the winners employment or cooperation with other companies of the Group. Deadline: November. (
  • Fullbright Self-Placed All Disciplines, S.-Italy Fullbright Commission: this institution offers 7 scholarships for bachelor and master students willing to pursue their master or their Ph.D. in the United States. Applicants must be Italian, need to have graduated (preferably in the previous three years) and need to possess at least one Italian degree. Candidates with no study experience in the US are preferred. The scholarship lasts one year, it is not renewable and it is worth 38,000 dollars. The Fullbright commission sponsors the beneficiaries’ J-1 visa. It is important to know, that, applying for the J-1 visa having a Fullbright scholarship, beneficiaries will probably necessarily be subject to the residency requirement, i.e. they will have to reside in their home country for 2 years once the visa has expired. Deadline: December. (
  • Borse di studio, Fondazione Einaudi: the foundation issues nine scholarships that are sponsored by different institutions. Three of them, offered by Compagnia di San Paolo, are worth 20,000 euro and are intended for students who want to study abroad in one of the fields indicated in the website (Economics is included). Four scholarships worth 10,000 euro are also available to pursue your doctoral studies. Applicants need to be less then 30 years old and to have graduated before the application deadline. Deadline: April. (
  • “Éupolis Lombardia per la ricerca”, Regione Lombardia: Regione Lombardia issues one scholarship for students graduated in the field of Economics (Sviluppo Economico). To be elegible a candidate needs to have obtained a master degree with a minimum grade of 100/110 and be less than 32 years old. Once pre-selected, candidates will have to be interviewed so to assess their ability in doing research. The scholarship is worth 19,800 euro and is renewable for an additional year. (
  • Founder’s scholarship, Ermenegildo Zegna: the Zegna Group provides scholarships up to 50,000 euro to outstanding Italians interested in pursuing their doctoral studies abroad and willing to come back to Italy after the completion of their studies. The scholarship is renewable for a maximum of three years. Candidates must be Italian citizens or residents, they need to have obtained their Master’s degree with a minimum grade of 105/110 or to be close to graduation and have an average of 28/30 (this criteria apply specifically to Bocconi students). Candidates need to receive the endorsement of their current institution in order to be fully considered in the selection process. If applicants will ask for more than 5,000 euro the family income will also be taken into consideration. It is important to understand that, regardless from the amount received, beneficiaries will be required to return back to Italy once completed their studies and they will have to reside in Italy three years for each year abroad funded by the Zegna Group. Waivers to the residency requirement might be applied for a few years. However, in the case in which the beneficiary would not return to Italy he/she will be asked to reimburse the total received (no interest rate will be applied). The pre-selection deadline is April but it depends on the university, an interview will follow in May, if pre-selected. (

 To conclude, here you have a short overview of the funding opportunities you will face as a prospective doctoral student. Applying to any of these scholarships might require a bit of effort but it will definitely pay off. Indeed, even if you do not qualify for the scholarship you might still be exposed to other amazing opportunities, as for the Stringher scholarship, and you will prepare in advance all the material you will need to apply to graduate studies. Finally, remember that you will still be able to apply for these scholarships once you have started your Ph.D. As “researchers-to-be”, having the chance to fund your own projects independently will be extremely valuable.

Awa Ambra Seck


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