1 What It Costs [Me] to Apply to Grad School | The Billfold

What It Costs [Me] to Apply to Grad School

I am applying to grad school for the Fall 2014 semester. I don’t even want to talk about it.

In lieu of a nervous breakdown, though, here is a financial one:


The GRE test itself: $185.00 / HIGHWAY ROBBERY
GRE study book: free from the library
GRE test snax: almonds, probably like $10, a string cheese, $.99 / worth every penny
cost of re-learning algebra and geometry and statistics: UNTOLD
sending score reports to extra schools: first two were free, second two were $25 each
shame of getting a 4/6 on the ‘Analytical Writing’ portion of the GRE when I am applying to writing schools: middling

Subtotal: $246


sending a copy of my college transcript to myself first, just to see: $7
sending official transcripts to schools that require it: $7 x four schools = $28
sending official transcripts to the other schools once I am accepted: probably $0 because I won’t get in, OR, if we’re being positive, 21 more dollars.

Subtotal: $35


Telling you where I am applying to grad schools is not something I want to do but in the interest of JOURNALISM here you go.

Vanderbilt: Free! Amazing.
UT-Austin, Michener: $65
UT-Austin, New Writers Project: $65 (yes they have two programs and I applied to both, and yes it’s kind of insane)
Syracuse: $75 (ok fine anything for you, George Saunders)
Michigan: $65
Iowa: $60
Wisconsin: can’t find out without submitting my application and I haven’t finished my Personal Statement yet but I’m going to assume it’s $65
A handful of less competitive schools I apply to at the last minute, in a panic: Hard to predict

Subtotal: $395. Jesus Christ.


I have to mail in actual paper to Iowa and Syracuse, so that might be another $8, let’s say $10 with the cost of envelopes.


A tea every afternoon spent at the coffee shop, trying not to kill myself: $2/day x 30 days = $60

GRAND TOTAL: $746 (+ whatever interest or late fees accrue on my credit card when I forget to pay the bill)


Photo: Kaplan International English


52 Comments / Post A Comment

I am, arguably, still paying off my graduate school applications from 2008; since I called and got my credit limit raised in order to afford it and since then have still not managed to get a $0 balance on that card.

I also got a 4/6 on the writing and was INCENSED. I have no idea how that thing is scored.

acid burn (#113)

@polka dots vs stripes I also got a 4/6 and I agree that it is COMPLETE bullshit. They don’t even give you your essay back with any information about how you could do better! I studied their prep materials and followed their stupid guidelines and it was all for naught.

EvanDeSimone (#2,101)

The only good thing about the GRE is knowing with absolutely certainty that I am now free to erase all knowledge of basic mathematics from my brain.

Meaghano (#529)

@EvanDeSimone TRUTH. I don’t even know what my scores mean since they changed the scoring system, I just know I did well enough to never think about the GRE again.

wrappedupinbooks (#1,426)

I could do this for my law school applications, but I think that the financial breakdown would probably actually trigger the nervous breakdown in my case.

Laurabean (#3,040)

Did the GRE used to cost less or am I just very oblivious?

EM (#1,012)

@Laurabean I took it in November 2008 (in Canada) and I remember it costing $185 CAN, so maybe it has gone up in the US.

Laurabean (#3,040)

@EM I also took it in 2008 and remember $75-ish being the cost, but I’ve memory dumped everything, including the difference between permutations and combinations and other math facts, out of my brain now.

Meaghano (#529)

@Laurabean Yes I took it in 2006 and it was way less! I think $120 or so?

EM (#1,012)

@Laurabean $75!! *dies inside* Thank god I only had to take it once.

OllyOlly (#669)

OK a friend gave me advice on getting a 6 out of 6 on her GRE essay, which led me to a 6 out of 6 on my GMAT analytical writing.

1. Write what you are going to say
2. Say it
3. Write what you just said

You do not win this thing my being a good writer. I mean, on the GMAT your essay is graded twice, once by a person and once BY A ROBOT. And I think I read that like 99% of the time the scores are basically the same between the two so that was an important audience lesson for me.

OllyOlly (#669)

@OllyOlly Also the GMAT was a fun $250. I didn’t do well on the Quant section, and everyone was like “well just retake it no sweat!” Ha.

echolikebells (#3,272)

@OllyOlly This is a totally true breakdown of how to get a 6/6 on your GRE/GMAT! Also, for anyone else who may be about to that these godforsaken tests: pretend that you DON’T intuitively know the difference between “dissect the argument other people made about this thing” and “make an argument about this thing” and read the question at least twice to make sure you know which one you’re actually being asked to do. This is a real thing that very smart, very capable people who can read mix up!

CaddyFdot (#2,686)

@OllyOlly That’s the same writing lesson my mother has spouted to me my entire life. “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.”

echolikebells (#3,272)

@CaddyFdot It’s actually an excellent way to get high marks on every writing assignment until you get to college-level writing or English courses, and it works then sometimes too. A great writing lesson for writing things that are enjoyable to read? Not necessarily/not always. A great writing lesson for knowing how to succeed in regulated education? Absolutely!

Meaghano (#529)

@echolikebells Yeah you guys are totally right. I was so stressed about the math section I didn’t even look at or think about the writing, telling myself, “Oh I know how to write, whatever.” Then I probably diva’d out on my essay and am now in the 50th percentile. Ha, lord.

CaddyFdot (#2,686)

@echolikebells Yep, she works in education policy research (which I also now do), so it was applicable to most scholarly work I had to do through school and now professionally. I never took creative writing outside of high school requirements because I’d so much rather read it than write it myself.

Any other writing section tips people have? Or general GRE tips? I’m studying and will take it in the not-so-distant future.

echolikebells (#3,272)

@CaddyFdot If you tend to be “good” at standardized tests, you are going to have no problems whatsoever. If you have issues with them, I think those Kaplan books are actually worth it because they teach you/remind you about the language of how questions are built so that you can spend less time unpacking what is being asked of you and more time doing the terrible hellbeast of a geometry question that they’re asking you to do. Test language always made sense to me, but my roommate struggles with it and LOVED what the Kaplan book helped him understand. I loved my math book from them because it was like a workbook for practicing a subject I hadn’t studied in five years, and I really think it helped.

eastcoaststudent (#5,030)

@CaddyFdot do at least 2 or 3 practice tests in “test conditions”. After serious studying, this is the best way to feel 100% confident walking into the test

Ellie (#62)

@OllyOlly I got a 4.5 even though I tried deliberately not to write “well,” but to write the kind of essay they would grade highly.

aetataureate (#1,310)

I took in-person review classes for the GRE and the GMAT and have never looked back. Recommend strongly to everyone ever. It’s worth the cost. Also, I found a coupon for something like $100.00 off on RetailMeNot.

Beaks (#3,488)

@CaddyFdot I definitely did not remember as much math as I thought I did, and I really should have reviewed more. Example: totally forgot how the power rule worked.

Also, know what kind of importance the GRE plays in the program you are applying to, and study accordingly. For me, I just basically had to prove that I was a human with a functioning brain on the GRE- my transcripts and portfolio were a zillion times more important.

Also also, your percentile on the math section will probably suck unless you get a perfect score because everyone applying to science/math/engineering programs pretty much has to get a perfect score (since they are supposed to be good at math substantially more complicated than GRE math). It’s okay.

CaddyFdot (#2,686)

I recommend the free Khan Academy videos for help reviewing for the math section! I used them more specifically to remember how to deal with exponents and roots (multiplying, dividing, pos/neg).

readyornot (#816)

sometimes posts about the cost of things make me feel like i’m doing everything wrong! i’m pretty sure i spent around $6000 applying to grad school the first time around, including application fees which were around $150-175, the portion of admitted student visits not covered by the institution, regular transcripts from my BA and additional transcripts from post-bac coursework, etc. oh and of course overnight express postage for the occasional mishap. ha.

similarly, a long-ago comment thread about attending weddings as a guest had most people spending sensible amounts like $300 per wedding, a couple thousand total, but i started thinking about it and my number was more like $15000. over many years. TOTALLY WORTH IT.

anyway. i’m happy in grad school now, those costs start to slip away.

Meaghano (#529)

@readyornot I bet the visits get ya. Yeah I am trying to think of this as a worthy investment, since all these programs are “fully funded.” And if not, I guess it was an $800 shot in the dark…ah well.

eastcoaststudent (#5,030)

@Meaghano hopefully they will like you and offer to reimburse some of your travel expenses!

echolikebells (#3,272)

I am getting ready to go through this whole process and money is so tight I’m only applying to two programs. Hopefully that doesn’t come back to haunt me, and hopefully it isn’t a terrible sign that I shouldn’t even be applying.

Meaghano (#529)

@echolikebells Not a terrible sign! Even though yeah I totally know the feeling of looking for signs it’s a bad idea and reasons not to apply or wait one more year etc etc.

Most places offer fee waivers, too, maybe see if you can get one if there is somewhere else you’d wanna apply?

xenu01 (#4,239)

@echolikebells I only applied to 2 grad schools, and both were programs I was super excited about. If I didn’t get it, my plan was to try again next cycle. Totally agree with the comment downthread that discourages you from applying to safety schools.

Anyway, guess what happens when you only apply to two schools? You are SUPER FOCUSED on those two schools and give them the best application ever instead of a cookie-cutter application that you sent to 8 other schools.

Best of luck to you!

echolikebells (#3,272)

@Meaghano YES. I absolutely keep looking for signs.

Also that is a great suggestion that I forget about so thank you?!

eraserface (#1,628)

What do we think about the ethics of charging for transcripts? My undergrad alma mater does not charge at all, no matter how many copies; my grad alma mater charges I think after one copy per year? And then I found out that charging for transcripts is a thing that many universities do. Isn’t that part of their obligation to you as alumni? The fees are never exorbitant, but it still bothers me.

Laurabean (#3,040)

@eraserface I think it depends on the size of the institution: a tiny school (or well-endowed) could make this a perk, but an R1 or R2 that graduates 5,000 ~ 10,000 students a year would have trouble affording even one per student.

eastcoaststudent (#5,030)

@Laurabean but how much does it really cost the school? They charge $7, $10, $15 for printing it on special paper (bought in bulk), putting the seal on it and putting it in the mail ($0.50). One (state) university I have a transcript from offers electronic official PDF transcripts (originating from an official e-mail address)…and charges $5.50 for that!

ETA: I am very bitter about this considering how many checks I wrote to my undergraduate institution for transcripts after all the tuition and fees!

Meaghano (#529)

@eastcoaststudent Yeah I had to pay $7 just for an emailed PDF. I know the people who work at the registrar’s office have to make a living and all, just wish they could make a living with the $40k I already paid them in student loans! Grrr

sunflowernut (#1,638)

@eraserface I used to have to pay $5/transcript (email or paper) for an undergrad transcript and now they are free! I was so excited to see that the other month.

kellyography (#250)

@eraserface This got me curious, so I went online to see how much it was to order a transcript from my small liberal arts school. They go through a service (you can choose any number of universities and colleges from a drop-down), and it’s only $2.25 for a mailed copy! I was so pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive it was, I ordered a copy just to see/for my records. They also gave you the option of faxing it, but didn’t say how much it cost (and as someone who works in a grad department, I can’t imagine any school accepting a fax as an official transcript copy anyhow).

eastcoaststudent (#5,030)

I applied to graduate programs two years ago and I am currently in my dream program. I applied to 7 schools (why?!), some competitive, some safety. Application fees alone were $600, 700. I took the GRE during the 2 month window in 2011 when they had just changed it to the new test and were running a sale (half price) to get more people to take it so they could figure out the scoring algorithm. I got a 5.5 on the AW….one of the prompts on my test was a prompt I had practiced from my GRE book :) I did various summer programs at colleges so I had to send 3 transcripts to each program, so that was another $200, plus the GRE score sending and the total was then over $1000. Then I decided to take a year off, and I applied all over again the next year (only to a couple schools that I truly wanted to go to though).

I advise that you ONLY apply to programs you are really excited about and would totally go to…and are the best you can get into/offer the best financial package. Do not apply to safety schools, no matter how nervous you get. If you don’t get in to the programs you want to get into, re-evaluate and try again next year. The concept of safety school is only useful for undergraduate applications (I learned this the hard way!! by spending an extra $500 applying to schools that weren’t good matches because I was more focused on/worried about going to graduate school as opposed to going to the best school I could get in to that is also the best for my future plans).

Best of luck!! It’s such a stressful process but it does end :)

Ellie (#62)

@eastcoaststudent I agree. I don’t think any of my programs is a “safety” but I am really excited about each of them. To the point where I kind of started having a panic attack yesterday about the prospect of getting into more than one because how could I choose.

@eastcoaststudent Everyone! LISTEN TO THIS ADVICE! Seriously! Listen to this person!!!!! What other wisdom can you share, dear @eastcoaststudent?
A mildly grumpy, former academic

eastcoaststudent (#5,030)

@angry little raincloud Thanks :) other advice is:
be realistic about what the program can do for you and if it is truly necessary for your professional plans;
except for a quite small collection of degrees, do not pay for any master’s or PhD program (if they want you, they will fund you, and if they don’t fund you, they don’t want you enough…accept it and apply again next year or move on);
if possible, take a year or two off between undergraduate and graduate, especially if you are going to a top/very rigorous program (the difference the mental health between my classmates who did and didn’t take a year off is incredibly noticeable);
reach out to current professors in the program, who work on your specific interests, to introduce yourself and ask about the program and how it could serve your interests (and also get in how you and your interests would serve the program!);
and once you are accepted, see if you can talk to current students to figure out if you will fit in the culture.

@eastcoaststudent I’d disagree with do not pay for a master’s – there are several fields in which the degree is practitioner, not professor, oriented, and very rarely will those be fully funded and include living expenses. If no one got master’s in my field unless they were funded, there would be no master’s.

Granted, that is part of a larger discussion about the raising of professional standards for different careers (do you really need a master’s to do what I do? No, but enough people are getting them that now you’re at a disadvantage if you don’t, which is problematic), but that’s for another time.

Secondeding your “take a year off” advice, so so much.

xenu01 (#4,239)

I spent most of last semester stressing about the GRE, only to find that my program only considers it as a fractional part of my application. More importantly were my letters of rec and my writing samples. Anyway, GRE security is hilariously heightened. My small group had to wait in the lobby until we could be escorted upstairs. We were not allowed ANYTHING, including water and writing utensils. We had to go to the bathroom before the test, like it was an airplane or something. We had to be patted down (!!!) before entering the depressing, cubicled room. When we needed a new pencil or paper or something we had to put our test book and dull pencil up to the glass and look imploring until someone decided to give us supplies. In retrospect, so funny.

Meaghano (#529)

@xenu01 YES, same here. It was the most bizarre experience ever. We had to pull our pockets inside out, and non-US citizens had to be friggin fingerprinted!

Ellie (#62)

I am also applying to grad school for fall 2014. I took the GRE a long time ago so I don’t remember what it cost and I think my parents paid for it, but I also bought two really expensive studying books. Also, on the way home from the GRE, I ended up buying a pair of light-up reindeer antlers and a box of nicotine patches, while in a celebratory mood. The antlers were priceless and the nicotine patches were $55. I ended up not using them and not quitting smoking until four years later, without the aid of nicotine patches.

My application fees, which I haven’t paid yet, are $595 for eight schools. I also paid $200 to send my GRE scores to these schools. Ironically, four of them are the same schools I opted to get my scores for free when I took the GRE, but it was so long ago they undoubtedly shredded them. Official transcripts from my undergrad college are free! I will probably also pay a small amount of postage to mail to the one school that wants a paper copy.

@Ellie Wait, if you take the GRE once you keep that score in perpetuity?! I have literally no plans ever to go back to grad school (one PhD is enough, I’m not greedy), but I am excited that my deteriorating brain can ride on the coat-tails of my geometry-literate 21 year old smart self forevvvver.

Especially the subject test (Biology/Biochemistry). I remember zero of the things. The other day it took me and a few other postdocs a few minutes to even remember the name “oxidative phosphorylation” much less what chemicals are involved.

I got a 5/6 on Analytical Writing which I blame wholly on the question, which was something like “Should parents take an interest in what their child is doing after school?” WTF are you supposed to say? “Yes. Duh. The end.”?

EM (#1,012)

@MollyculeTheory I thought that GRE scores were only good for five years?

Ellie (#62)

@MollyculeTheory They’re good for 5 years. I was kind of exaggerating with “a long time ago,” I took it exactly 4 years ago in November 2009. In a perfect world, I would have retaken it for more recent scores, but I’m applying to area study humanities PhD programs which the GRE is not exactly super relevant for, and I had a fantastic verbal score. If I were trying to impress people with my quantitative score or if I were an international student or if I were straight out of college (mutually exclusive, though) or applying to a more quantitative master’s program then I might have considered it more advantageous to retake. But in general (I work at a graduate school so I am extremely familiar with the other end of graduate admissions) the GRE score is the least significant component of an application. It’s only predictive, typically, of grades during a student’s first year in the program.

pocket-witch (#1,576)

My GRE experience (taken just last August!):

- Magoosh online study program, $99. Totally worth it. If anyone is studying for the GRE I highly recommend it. It lasts for six months, and I had only used up three, and so after the test I wiped my stats and gave the log in info to my friend who’s taking it in January.
- GRE, $185 and a panic attack after I realized I had crossed the point of no return.
- Oil change, $35. I got to the testing center 45 minutes early and couldn’t bear the thought of sitting in that waiting room, so I went to the place next door and got my oil changed. Good decision.
- Celebratory Dairy Queen meal, $8. They give you the scores right after the test (but not before you send out your scores to schools, what a dick move), and I was happy and ate a chicken strip basket.

aetataureate (#1,310)

@pocket-witch <3 the oil change. Congratulations!

@pocket-witch lol I love the oil change. With my luck, I would have done that but it would have taken too long and I would have been late!

acid burn (#113)

When I applied to nursing school last year, I applied to three different programs at the same school, each with a $120 application fee (plus one had a Masters component, so I had to take the GRE for it). I did get into one of those programs, but ended up going to the other school I’d applied to for a $45 fee.

I also had to order official transcripts from all four of my previous colleges for myself and the two schools, which I think was a total of about $75.

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