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Not to mention some applicants apply to 20 schools or more.

Michel X.

Where *does* the application money go, exactly? A program that charges $85 and gets 200 applicants would make $17 000, that's most of a student's stipend. Basically all of it, with TAships added.


CLARIFICATION: The GRE allows one to send reports to 4 instituitions for "free" after you pay the cost to take the test (~$160, I think).

Around 2/3 of the institutions I applied did not require (the expense of) official transcripts, unless one was admitted. So universities should have no problem extending this practice to GRE scores. In fact, as it is, all of the 15 places I applied to also requested self-reported scores.

As far as application fees, many (most in my experience) institutions allow for waivers for financial reasons or otherwise (veteran, etc.). You will have to do some digging around on websites to find this information, however. Universities have little incentive to make giving them your money more difficult. Often you will have to have a letter from your financial aid office stating such and such, which varies by applications. The required wording on these is very finnicky, as it turns out. So you will have to be in contact with your financial aid office at your current institution to work this out.

Lastly, since the departments in question are not in charge of collecting the monies (nor do they receive any kickback from it, if a Leiter thread from a few years back is to be believed), then appealing to the department itself seems pointless. This is something that current grad students need to push to look out for their future colleagues. However, there is obviously little incentive for that.


Having been a student and on the admin side, I can offer some answer to the question what the application fees are for. Part of the reason for the fees is to keep the number of applications down. The thinking is that if applying to grad school were free or nearly so, then more people would do it, even sometimes on a mere whim. That would dramatically increase costs and time required to sort through the applications. So schools use application fees to discourage applying.

I don't mean to defend the practice, only offer insight. The author rightly notes that this can easily price out underprivileged groups. But if we want to remedy this unintended side-effect, some way likely needs to be created to prevent a large increase in the number of applications (and the associated costs of money and time to process them). Otherwise admission offices and admission committees will not be interested in changing the present system.

international applicant

Not to mention some international applicants need to send TOEFL score reports which cost $23 fee per school.

Izzy Black

If you want to keep out 200+ applicants, why not just put a cap limit on applications? Rather than price out poor people, just say first come first serve, and once you've received your desired goal, say applications for admission are now closed.


Well, a few things. First, the application fees definitely don't go to the departments themselves; they go to the university or, more specifically, the graduate college. Second, the fees pay for expenses in the graduate college, like employee labor. Graduate colleges tend to have very small budgets because they don't actually offer classes--e.g., the classes would be offered through the philosophy department--and so this funding is important for their operational expenses. Why are some fees double others? Well, here's a guess: NYU and Stanford charge more than Illinois or Wisconsin. Why? Well, their expenses (e.g., rent/real estate, labor) are substantially higher. Third, there *are* fee waivers for people who qualify. Just contact the graduate college and ask. Fourth, there's a whole consortium of schools that use "FreeApp" and for which, not surprisingly, applications can be free: https://www.cic.net/students/freeapp/introduction.

I think the biggest problem here is that students applying to Ph.D. programs tend to have bad information or to be under misapprehensions about the process--or how universities work. And that's certainly understandable: how should they know this stuff? (Well, aside from asking Google.) A key is to have good advisers who do, and who take an active role in the Ph.D. application process. This is one--of many--reasons that a terminal M.A. program is a good idea, since Ph.D. applications is one of the things those places focus on.

Derek Bowman

"I think the biggest problem here is that students applying to Ph.D. programs tend to have bad information or to be under misapprehensions about the process..."

This may be true, but it's simply beside the point that the original poster raised. Even if you have good advisers, you need to have the money to actually apply to a wide enough range of programs to have a good chance of admission. And things like requiring official scores/transcripts as part of the initial applications present unnecessary barriers to those who don't have disposable income to spend on their applications.

Of course there will still be reason to worry about how those same people will be able to afford the application, living, travel, and moving expenses of being on the job market and jumping from one VAP/postdoc/adjunct position to another over a period of years.


If the advice is that there are fee waivers, then that's hardly beside the point about the process being expensive; fee waivers obviously lower the costs of application substantially.

As for the other point, it's at least an open question whether people should be staying in the profession absent ready acquisition of a tenure-track job. So throwing the the cost-of-living difficulties of adjuncts on Ph.D. applicants is a red herring. In other words, take the waivers, apply on the cheap, try for tenure-track jobs; if it doesn't work, go do something else. There's no inherent economic risk on this model.


"If the advice is that there are fee waivers, then that's hardly beside the point about the process being expensive; fee waivers obviously lower the costs of application substantially."

Fee waivers are not nearly so prevalent as some of the folks on the other side of admissions seem to think. For example, I know that fee waivers are not offered, even for students below the poverty line (excepting McNair scholars), at Penn, Georgetown, Colorado, UMass or, at least for those who already have a graduate degree in hand, Texas. (I don't take this post, which simply states facts about policies, to be against the comments policy of this site).

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