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How to Budget for Grad School Applications

By the time most people consider grad school, they’ve already had a taste of the real world – and a look at the price tag. Even those lucky enough to land a high-paying job right off the bat are likely still facing a mountain of student loans.

So when you decide to pile those loans even higher by attending grad school, it can be more than a little frustrating to find that even the application process comes with a cost. Here’s what to expect – and how to budget for it.

How to Estimate Grad School Application Expenses

Every grad school program will have its own set of fees and related expenses. Some programs will pay for a portion of an applicant’s fees while others won’t cover a single penny.

Application-related expenses include:

  • University application fees: Usually between $50 to $170
  • Entrance exams like the GRE, GMAT, LSAT or MCAT: Can range from $150 to $320
  • Travel expenses for in-person interviews: Can cost $0 (if local) to thousands (if out-of-town)
  • Professional clothes: Most students choose to wear a suit, dress or pantsuit to their grad school interview
  • Official transcript fees: Usually between $5 to $10

This list doesn’t include some region-specific expenses, like winter gear if you’re moving from California to New York for grad school, or a sturdy pair of rain boots if you’re moving to Seattle.

If you’re trying to budget ahead for these expenses, talk to grad students in similar programs, TAs and even your professors. Your undergrad advisor may also have suggestions on who to ask.

How to Save Money on Grad School Applications

The cost of applying to grad school can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Here are some ways to save money during the process:

Apply for a Fee Waiver

Many grad schools require that students take the GRE, which is like the SAT for prospective graduate students. The test costs $160 for students in the US, Puerto Rico and other US territories.

The company that administers the GRE provides a 50% off discount for students with demonstrated financial need. Applicants must have filled out the FAFSA and have an expected family contribution (EFC) of $2,500 or less. If you’re an independent student, then your EFC must be $3,000 or less.

If you need to take the test again, you’ll have to apply for the fee waiver again as well. Thankfully, many programs are dropping the GRE as a requirement.

Some grad schools also provide application fee waivers with similar requirements. This could save you hundreds of dollars, depending on how many schools and programs you apply to. Sometimes they’ll even offer a discount if you turn in your application early.

Other schools won’t waive the application fee, but may let you apply to multiple departments within the school while only paying for one application.

Ask About Travel Reimbursement

Graduate schools often require in-person interviews, but may sometimes reimburse travel expenses. This depends on the school and major. Some will book the travel for you, while others will ask that you book your own travel and submit receipts to be reimbursed later.

However, some schools will only reimburse applicants who are accepted to the program. Inquire about the travel reimbursement process before applying so you don’t get caught by surprise.

Contact Your Employer

If you’re already employed and plan to continue working while attending grad school, see if your company will pay for some of your expenses. Even if they don’t have a tuition reimbursement plan, they may be able to help with application and exam fees.

How to Pay for Grad School Application Expenses

You may need to use the following credit options to cover grad school application costs.

Open a 0% APR Credit Card

When Brad Zehr was applying to med school, he didn’t have any savings. His parents paid for part of his applications, but he relied on credit cards with 0% APR to fund the rest.

Students footing the bill for grad school application expenses should consider opening a credit card with a 0% APR offer for new purchases. These special credit card offers usually last between six to 24 months, at which point the regular APR kicks in.

During this promo period, you can charge transactions on the card and not owe interest – even if you can’t repay the balance all at once. If you don’t repay the balance before the promo period expires, however, you’ll owe interest on any remaining amount.

There are some downsides to opening a card with a 0% APR offer. Some credit cards charge deferred interest after the promo period, where any remaining balance triggers an interest charge for the entire transaction history. Even if you only have a $5 balance when the 0% offer ends, you’ll still be charged interest on all the transactions made since you opened the card. This could equal hundreds of dollars in interest.

If you miss a payment during the special promo period, the 0% rate may be revoked and replaced with a higher rate. To avoid this, set up autopay on the account and double-check each month that the payment went through.

If you don’t qualify for a 0% card on your own, your parents could open one and add you as an authorized user. This means you can use the card, but your parents will be legally responsible for the payments.

Take Out a Personal Loan

Students can apply for a personal loan to pay for grad school application expenses, but it may be hard to qualify without a cosigner. If your parents are willing to cosign, you’ll have a better chance of being approved for a personal loan.

Personal loans have a set term, usually between one to seven years, and a fixed interest rate, ranging from 6 to 36%.

Depending on your parents’ credit score, you may receive a relatively low-interest rate. Because the terms on a personal loan are longer than a 0% credit card offer, it may be less stressful to pay back the balance.

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