Graduate Student Support

Graduate Student Support

Since 2001, Penn has launched many new initiatives and made many robust enhancements to graduate education and student life. These include academic support programs, health and wellness benefits, programs and initiatives to enhance graduate student life, and programs for students with families.

Most of these enhancements arose directly from the input of students and student groups. Graduate students have effectively identified needs and collaborated with the University administration for decades. All graduate students have benefited, without the need to pay dues for such representation.

Academic Support

Self-Study on Graduate Education

In 2004, Penn focused a wide-ranging, campus-wide self-study on graduate education. As a result, the university has implemented important ongoing initiatives to enhance graduate life, including:

· a 5-year maximum for advancing to candidacy;

· a requirement for annual progress reports and meetings of dissertation committees;

· PhD worksheets which allow students to track their satisfaction of requirements.

Such improvements are designed to make the PhD process more transparent and give our PhD students more faculty, institutional, and mentoring support to stay on track for completion.

CTL Teaching Certificate

The Center for Teaching & Learning established a Teaching Certificate in 2006, which provides Penn doctoral students with support for improving their teaching as well as recognition for their commitment to developing as teachers.

Institutional Research Awards

The President Gutmann Leadership Award (established in 2009) and the GAPSA-Provost Fellowship for Interdisciplinary Innovation (established in 2006) support student research and travel. See information about these and other academic funding awards.

Penn Libraries

In August 2016, the Penn Libraries opened an exclusive graduate-student study space on the 5th Floor of the Van Pelt Dietrich Library Center. The Libraries raised the funds necessary to transform the previously open Class of 1937 Memorial Reading Room into a closed, card-accessible-only facility designed to meet the needs of graduate students, who rely heavily on the collections and spaces within the Libraries to do their research. The space provides a quiet atmosphere conducive to serious study, and includes carrels for individual study, a variety of other seating and work-surface options, and a lactation room.

Health and Wellness Benefits

Dental Insurance

Starting in fall 2017, the University reimburses 50% of the cost of Penn Dental insurance for all full-time PhD students.

Recreation Access

Starting in fall 2017, all full-time graduate and professional students have access to the Pottruck Health & Fitness Center, Sheerr Pool, and Fox Fitness Center included in their general fee. Part-time students, who pay a reduced fee, have the option to purchase access to these recreational facilities at a reduced cost. Previously, graduate and professional students had to purchase separate memberships to access the University’s fitness facilities. Discounted memberships at other gyms are available through the GlobalFit program.

Need-Based Grants for PhD Students

In fall 2017, Penn committed $1M in annual funding for need-based grants to PhD students in good standing to help defray the costs of extended health insurance, as well as dependent insurance and daycare for PhDs with spouses and children.

Health Insurance

Penn provides a benefits-rich health insurance package to fully-funded students, which is determined by SHIAC. It provides comprehensive coverage, including an unlimited lifetime maximum benefit, prescription coverage, treatment for mental illness and substance abuse, comprehensive infertility and Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) coverage, and no maximum amount limit on gender confirmation surgery.

Lactation Rooms

The University has been steadily increasing the number of lactation rooms across campus.

Graduate Student Life

Graduate Student Center

Since 2001, Penn has operated a highly successful Graduate Student Center. The Center provides more than 400 activities/year designed specifically for graduate students. The Center also brings together all the campus resources that help our graduate students be successful and healthy at Penn.

Leadership Awards

The Andy Binns Award was established in 2015 to recognize students who have contributed to graduate and professional student life. The President and Provost’s Citation for Exceptional Commitment to Graduate and Professional Student Life was established in 2006 to recognize students who have created lasting new developments to graduate and professional student life.

Community Impact Fund

In 2016 then-Provost Vincent Price dedicated funds to support graduate student initiatives and activities that build a community of mutual respect and intercultural understanding on campus. In particular, the fund is designed to support graduate student-driven activities that address racial, cultural, or gender-based bias. Applications for the Community Impact Fund can be submitted during the academic year by any student organization or University entity organizing activities for graduate and professional students.

Graduate & Professional Student Survey

In 2016, a comprehensive survey of all enrolled graduate and professional students was conducted. The primary focus of the survey is student satisfaction with Penn resources and services, as well as the quality of campus life; the survey results have informed Penn’s priorities for graduate and professional student life.

Benefits Supporting Students with Families

Family Friendly Policies for PhD Students

In 2006, Penn established new parent accommodation and family leave policies for doctoral students, PhD students can take 8 weeks of paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or, if necessary, a longer unpaid leave. These leaves “stop the clock” on the student’s academic requirements.

Family Resource Center

In 2010, the University opened the Family Center to provide information, resources, activities and advocacy for students and post-docs with children. In 2014 the Center moved into larger and more central space at 3615 Locust Walk, which allowed the Center to increase hours and programming.

Family-Friendly Benefits for All Students

In 2011, Penn began providing subsidized emergency backup care for students with children and free memberships to as of 2014.

Family Grant Program

In 2011, the University created a Family Grant Program to support eligible PhD students with children. The program has continually been expanded, and now provides grants up to $5,000 per child to offset the cost of childcare and other family expenses, and grants up to $1,000 per dependent to offset the cost of dependent health insurance.

University Governance


The University works closely with The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA), providing resources for travel grants, research support, and other activities, including GradFest, a week-long, University-wide, community-building celebration for all graduate students. GAPSA meets regularly with the President, Provost, and other university leaders. 

The University works with GAPSA to supports a wide range of graduate student cultural and affinity groups. The Graduate Student Center and schools provide comprehensive new graduate student orientation, including pre-arrival online information sessions.

Consistent with our Quaker roots, Penn also has a long history of including graduate and professional students in University governance. Among the many committees with graduate student representation are:

· University Council (15 Seats)

· Academic & Related Affairs (2 Seats)

· Campus and Community Life (2 Seats)

· Committee on Committees (1 Seat)

· Committee on Diversity & Equity (2 Seats)

· Committee on Facilities (2 Seats)

· Independent Committee on Honorary Degrees (2 Seats)

· Independent Committee on Open Expression (3 Seats)

· University Council Steering Committee (2 Seats)

· Social Responsibility Advisory Committee (2 Seats)

· Committee on Manufacturer Responsibility (1 Seat)

· Committee on Academic Planning and Budget (2 Seats)

· Graduate Council of the Faculties (3 Seats)

· The Student Health Insurance Advisory Committee (SHIAC) (10 seats)

· CAPS Student Advisory Board

· Penn Museum Committee (1 Seat)

· Student Financial Services Advisory Board (3 Seats)

· WXPN Advisory Board (1 Seat)

In addition, graduate students also serve as liaisons on Trustees’ Committees:

· Academic Policy

· Budget and Finance

· Local, National, and Global Engagement

· Facilities and Campus Planning

· Student Life