Applying to Graduate School Shouldn’t Cost a Fortune

I just spent $1,000 applying for graduate school.

I applied to nine schools, and the cost of each application ranged between $50 and $105 with only one university’s application process costing nothing (I was so confused that the one application didn’t ask me for my credit card information that I contacted several people at the university to verify this, and they confirmed that, yes, their application actually is one of the few free ones). Along with the application fees, it cost $200 to take the GRE, $27 per school to send your GRE scores to institutions, and my undergraduate university charged me each time I needed it to send my transcript because they won’t send it electronically. I was lucky; medical and law school applications and tests can cost even more than the $1,000 I just spent, especially if applicants have to travel for interviews. 

Not only did I just spend $1,000 on all these applications and fees, but everything was due right before Christmas, so my bank account was extra drained this month (if anyone wants to give me a Christmas present, money is the top thing on my Christmas list). 

That $1,000 killed my soul as I watched the amount in my bank account decrease, and instead of celebrating submitting all the applications after all the work I put into them, I felt miserable about all that money flying out the window. But unlike a lot of people in the same position, I could actually afford these applications and nonsense fees (as long as I did a lot of couponing).

Even though I’m a stereotypical broke Millennial with more student loan debt than I make in a year, I do have a steady income. Many Millennials are still struggling to find a good job or even a job at all with their bachelor’s degree, so some are seeking out a higher degree to be a more competitive candidate in the ever-worsening job market for recent college graduates. But if you don’t have a good income (or any income) to begin with, how can you afford all the application fees, much less the tuition if you’re going to medical or law school? (Especially if you’re applying to a more prestigious university).

What if you come from a background of poverty and need to help support your family instead of paying for applications? What if you’re married with kids and want a better degree and job to support your family, but the application fees cost as much as your monthly rent or mortgage payment? What if you’ve always dreamed of being a doctor and helping to save lives, but you don’t have nearly enough money to make it happen? Undergraduate universities already treat people from low income homes unfairly, and graduate programs may make the problem even worse. Yes, there are grants, but you have to jump through hoops when applying and there’s no guarantee that you could get one, especially if you come from a financially stable background but you yourself cannot get a job. It also isn’t easy to find information on application grants or waivers if you need it. 

So what can actually be done to fix this problem? I doubt the job market could be easily fixed (but people could stop requiring 5-10 years of experience for an “entry level” job to get more recent college graduates employed), so it may be up to the universities to at least make the situation somewhat better.

Yes, they have to pay people to sort through these applications, so I can understand at least a small application fee. I don’t believe in just giving Millennials whatever they complain about (this is what produces “snowflakes“), but there are several ways universities could help applicants. I’ve already written about the unnecessary extravagances these universities waste money on, so maybe more money could be allocated towards applications instead of redoing fountains and adding copper domes to buildings. More universities could move towards electronic transcripts instead of paper ones (don’t liberal institutions want to help save the environment anyway?), or at least lower the price of sending a transcript because there’s no way that two pieces of paper, some ink, an envelope, and a stamp cost $10. Schools could stop requiring the GRE for many of their programs since every single professor I spoke to said they don’t even really care about the GRE scores anyway, and the GRE could lower the price of sending out scores—$27 per school is even more outrageous than the $10 per school for transcripts.

I doubt many of these things will change, but if even one of them would, it might help many prospective students. Universities say they want the best of the best among applicants to attend their schools, but they may not realize that the best of the best can’t even afford to apply.

Image: Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University – By Mathew Ingram [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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5 responses to “Applying to Graduate School Shouldn’t Cost a Fortune

  1. You don’t say what subject you intend to pursue in grad school. If business/economics or hard science, then your case is stronger than if you were pursuing a $150K MA in “critical queer studies” or the like.

    You also don’t say what schools you are considering. If something like Wharton or Boalt Hall (if they still call it that), again, your case is stronger than if you intended to get your degree from SUNY Delhi or Cobleskill.

    Frankly, I don’t have a problem with high barriers to entry to grad school. I say this as holder of an MA in public policy from a highly regarded school in that field who pursued a career for which it was nice to have, but not entirely necessary, and as someone whose cost for that degree was manageable (since I got it back in the 70s). The fact is that we have way too many people with such degrees and expectations that can never be met in a shrinking market for positions requiring them. As Megan McArdle pointed out as well, the student loan crisis is a mainly the result of debt incurred in the pursuit of graduate degrees, and not attributable to the cost of an undergraduate education.

    1. How is creating barriers to a better education GOOD? Making people earn the degree once they get in might be sensible, but making it hard JUST to get in is elitist madness!

      NO course of study should have barriers outside of qualifications directly related to academic performance.

      I also hate how you need to get ‘permission’ from peers, instructors or employers. Your education is nobody’s business!!! What sensible rationale is there to require an adult to get another adult’s approval to go to school?!

      Time to break up the cronyistic cartel of graduate education!

      1. What you’re saying is education for education’s sake, and that we would all be better off if more people were “enlightened”. Yeah, right. That’s fine with me if those partaking of it were aware of the costs involved and the possibility of not getting a return on that investment. If we can stop the marginal student right at the start from embarking on a path that will lead to bitterness, disappointment, and crushing debt, well that’s a good thing. Anyone else who wants to pursue an advanced degree as a consumer good and can self-fund, well then have at it.

        1. No, I’m not saying that. I mean exactly what I said.

          There’s no good reason to stop marginal students. They have a right to be as educated as they wish. Why not be as educated as you can, if you do the work and pay the tuition?!

          Again: what SENSIBLE rationale is there to require an adult to need another adults consent to go to school, outside of entry qualifications related to grades?

          What snobbery!!!

          1. You sound like some old fogey of the 50s or 60s with an unshakable belief that more education is the key to both an “enlightened” society and both individual and global economic success.

            You reveal yourself in “. . . if you do the work and pay the tuition” but you didn’t address my point that all too many students can’t, and really shouldn’t. If you’re marginal and pursue a degree in a questionable field then you really shouldn’t.

            As far as requiring adult consent to go to school, I said nothing about that. Don’t put words in my mouth.

            As for snobbery, you won’t get any from this writer–the first in his family to go to college, let alone grad school.

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