Budgeting for the Application Process

By Dr. Keisha John, Director of Diversity Programs, Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs, University of Virginia

Many students are surprised by the overall cost of the application process. This article details the major cost categories for applications, as well as some strategies for reducing those costs. The budget for the application process falls into three categories: tests, application fees, and interviews.

Tests: The general GRE test is $205, and subject tests are $75 each. Therefore, a student who needs to take both would need at least $280 just to take the tests. Some students may be eligible for waivers via their school or the GRE fee reduction program which decreases your cost by at least half. In addition to paying to take the exam, all students will need to study for the exam. Most students can prepare on their own using ETS materials or other online resources. These can cost anywhere from $20 to $200. If you need the structured classroom setting to prepare, then a formal class through your university or a test preparation company may be for you. However, be prepared to pay anywhere from $500-$1000 for these classes. Some universities offer discounts to help students enroll. Additionally, some summer programs offer GRE preparation as a component of their program. To reduce some of these costs, see the GRE Fee Reduction Program as well as ETS’s free GRE resources (2).

Application Fees: These fees can range from $50 to $150. For a student applying to ten schools, this could mean another $1500. Some schools and programs have removed this financial barrier. However, if you are applying to schools that still have application fees, there are ways to see if you can waive those fees.

Many summer programs provide waivers to past participants who apply to their graduate school. Some Alliances provide waivers to students at their partner schools. For instance, Leadership Alliance participants can apply to graduate programs at member schools for free (3). You should attend fairs and conferences as most programs provide waivers to students that visit their tables or booths.

You may request a waiver directly from the school. However, be advised that most graduate programs have a statement such as the following regarding fee waivers: Requests for application fee waivers will only be considered for U.S. citizens or permanent residents on the basis of significant financial hardship, or if an applicant has participated or is currently participating in one of the following programs: AmeriCorps, BUILD Program, COMPASS, CORO Fellows, FAF, Fleet Fellows, GEM, IIE/Fulbright, IIPP, IMSD, IRT, JSI, Leadership Alliance, LSAMP, MARC, McNair, Mellon Mays, NSF-REU, NYC Urban Fellows, Peace Corps, PPIA, Questbridge, RISE, SINSI, Truman Fellows, U.S. Military, or Yellow Ribbon Program.

If they don’t have a list or a site specifically for fee waivers ask the program coordinator if it is possible for them to provide a waiver.

Interviews: Students in STEM should expect to have all of the PhD interview costs covered by the program that invites them to interview. The only costs you may incur are local travel or travel less than two hours. Otherwise, the program should arrange all of your travel, housing and meals for your interview visit. If you are applying to a master’s program, it is unlikely that you will have an in-person interview and you will be expected to pay for any visits to the university.

In summary, students should budget approximately $1000 to $3000 for the application process. The high end of $3000 is needed if they do not pursue any fee waivers and pay for a test preparation class.

Action Items

  1. Make a budget for the application process.
  2. Plan for testing fees, application fees, and, in rare instances, travel fees.
  3. Seek out fee waivers at conferences, through summer research programs, and directly from prospective departments.

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