Graduate school applications take time, money and emotional energy that can stress out students.
Applying to grad school comes with many costs. Emotional, as in the stress it puts on applicants. Time, as in the weeks it takes to compile application components. Monetary, as in the money each application costs.
Highly sought-after grad programs come with a steep price tag, so if one is a competitive applicant relative to his peers, money becomes a real issue. A small budget for applications becomes a severe limiting factor in the selection process. This can keep qualified applicants out of the best schools because they can’t afford the multiple $70+ price tags. This forces these potential applicants to focus on safety-schools, those schools with less selective programs. The problem with this is that if students find themselves financially constrained to safety-schools, they face limited job prospects down the line. At least, more limited than had they been able to afford all the top-tier program application fees. Which begs the question: if students are constrained to only mid-tier programs, what’s the real value of going to grad school?
Often, the reasons touted for grad school are a desire for a better salary upon entrance into the workforce, a desire to work in academia or simply because a grad degree is the only way some majors can enter a job market in their field. Students want a graduate degree for the better pay it offers after graduation, but the money they must pay simply to apply is often constraining in their school selection process.
A friend of mine told me that his application cost to five programs alone was $345, ranging from $50 to $85 per application. This came after he cut his original list of schools down from seven. But that’s not all! Applicants must also pay $200 to take the GRE at least once. The GRE serves as the entrance exam into grad schools, like the ACT or SAT for undergraduate programs. Then there are the fees to send the GRE scores and one’s official school transcripts. GRE score reports currently cost $27 (per report) to send. My friend had to send transcripts from three different schools, since he’d studied abroad and taken classes at two undergraduate institutions stateside. These transcripts range from $3 to $14 each, and he sent 15: five graduate programs with three university transcripts per program.
And that’s just the monetary cost! He studied 3 – 4 weeks to take the GRE. He asked four of his professors to write three letters each, which is an intimidating and daunting task. He painstakingly drafted and redrafted his application statements with professors as well. On top of that, he repeatedly updated his CV, hoping to not miss any important events that took place over the last 3.5 years of his academic life. All of this amid taking senior-level courses, writing a senior thesis and dealing with the scariest question of all from mentors and peers alike: “So, what’s next?”
At this point, it makes sense to ask: is the price (financial, psychological, time) worth grad school? My friend said the hardest part for him is juggling all the aforementioned tasks with the existential dread all of us college seniors face when constantly asked, “What’re you going to do with your life?” To quote him, “Unfortunately, grad schools don’t really care about the anxiety of twenty-somethings who at once must plan their future, prepare to enter the real world and realize they only have one life to live. And – for fuck’s sake! – we just don’t want to screw it up.”
Regardless of the school, applicants to grad schools face all the above costs, stresses and more when selecting and applying to programs. It’s clearly straining on the mind, a burden on the wallet and a haymaker to the nerves. All to get into a school where curriculum, projects, classes and professors will be even harder than before. They’ll expect more than before. They’ll take more time and energy than before. At the end, just like before, students receive a piece of paper telling them they’re a little smarter, a little more educated and a little more qualified than the rest of society.
Grad school might be what’s best for some people. However, students must think carefully and mull over all the costs of applying and acceptance before making such a commitment. The true cost is not just monetary.