College Connect Fall 2018: Application Fees – The Underestimated Barrier to Graduate School

Posted By David Wilhite

By Madison Gable

Students applying for doctoral programs will find many that offer full funding, which can include tuition, stipends for living expenses and even healthcare coverage. But first students must get accepted, and for some the cost of application fees can be a real barrier.

Allie Ibarra is a senior at the University of Georgia majoring in English, religion and philosophy. She is also a hopeful doctoral student who is expecting to take $2,000 out of her savings to cover the costs of applying to programs in Chicano literature.

“Ph.D. programs are super selective,” said Ibarra, “so one piece of advice you usually get is to apply to as many as you can afford.”

Ibarra plans to apply to 14 programs. The cheapest application she will file costs $60 and the most expensive costs $150. Other costs beyond application fees must also be factored in. Ibarra said the fee to take the Graduate Record Examination, or the GRE, a test that is required for admission to most graduate programs, is $205. Submitting GRE scores to additional schools after the test day costs $27 per school. For Ibarra, these costs will total to around $2,000.

Ibarra does not feel that dipping into her savings has affected her ability to pay for things in her daily life, but she said that after paying the full application fees she will not have reserves to cover unexpected emergency costs.

“Once I pay the full cost, nothing bad can happen,” said Ibarra. “If anything crazy happens, like my car breaks down, it just won’t be fixed.”

Lisa Sperling, senior director of recruitment and diversity initiatives at UGA, assists with UGA’s Graduate Student Financial Education Program. The program informs graduate students on topics ranging from handling credit card debt to learning budgeting skills.

“Ideally you should have $1,000 for things like your car breaking down or needing to get to a family member quickly,” said Sperling.

Schools sometimes will provide waivers for application fees, but these waivers are becoming less available as funding for higher education diminishes, said Sperling.

Sperling acknowledged that sometimes the only way to prepare for the costs of applying to graduate school is to save money while working part time in the months leading up to the application process.

Kristin Short is a graduate assistant for the financial education program and developed the program seminars. She recommended manually tracking expenses in a spreadsheet rather than relying on an app to do the job.

“That’s where you can start developing this consciousness about where your money is going based on how you live and then you can start editing your lifestyle patterns,” said Short.

Ibarra said she budgeted to ensure there was enough in her savings to cover application costs, but she won’t be able to afford visiting most of the schools where she’s seeking admission.

Ibarra also acknowledged that even with all her hard work, she might not get accepted into any program.

“It’s an investment that’s kind of like gambling; you’re paying a lot of money without any assurance that it will pan out,” said Ibarra.

Madison Gable is a journalism student at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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