#BlackLivesMatter

Samantha Lucy

Grad school application fees are a barrier to accessible education

When looking for solutions to the cost of post-secondary education, one problem is largely ignored: application fees. What are scholarships, government grants or lower tuition good for if those students that need it most can’t even join the race?

Application fees can be a strong deterring factor for applicants to graduate or professional school.  And there aren’t a whole lot of ways to get around them. This creates a barrier to accessible education.

Most professional schools require standardized tests like the LSAT, GRE or the MCAT. The cost of registering for these exams ranges from $180 to over $300. Most people take these exams more than once.

Unless you are one of those people that woke up one day and decided to write a standardized test and scored in the 99th percentile — in which case, please stop reading and return to your home planet — you will also probably spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on prep courses, practice exams or books. 

Only after you write your test does the application process really begin. Graduate and professional schools have similar application fees of around $125 or more in Canada, with varying rates in the United States. To little surprise, higher ranked schools come with a higher application price. If you know that you have the numbers for a lower ranked school and maybe a shot for higher ranked ones, how many chances can you afford to take? It isn’t possible to “blanket” apply the top schools.

It’s a simple fact that the more schools you apply to, the statistically higher your chances are of being accepted into one. Most students settle for applying for their safety school while taking a chance on a few “reach” schools. It feels like a waste of money applying to four or five schools — each with at least a $125 application — that you might only have a shot at for being admitted to.

And while there are the standards requirements, no one knows what goes on in admission committees. Maybe someone will like your Letter of Intent, relate to your story or just like the sound of your name. There is no way to know which schools you can get into unless you try and that is directly tied to how much you can afford to pay.

There are no scholarships or grants to pay for these application fees. Unless you have parents who are able and willing to pay — or if you’ve saved up enough over the summer — you’re out of luck.

Of course, there are fee waivers, but even they are a hurdle of their own. School websites strongly ask that only those “with a serious need” apply. But what constitutes  “serioues need” is undefined.

Some schools even explicitly indicate that an application fee is a small fraction of professional education and if you have to ask for a fee waiver you should seriously consider your options and apply at a different time.

The overall quality of post-secondary education in Canada is not dramatically different from one institution to another, but which graduate or professional school you attend is arguably the most important factor in where you end up working or how much you end up making in your chosen field.

It’s unfair to ask hopeful applicants to spend unjustifiable amounts of money on graduate and professional school applications. Unlike tuition or other costs associated with post-secondary, these fees are not regulated. And they are a systemic barrier to accessing education, making it more difficult for students without the financial ability to have the same chance as those who are able to spend money on application fees more easily.

It’s a shame that such an explicit barrier to education still exists and is simply accepted by us as part of the process.

We’re often told that if we go to school and work hard, we can achieve anything that we want. But that’s not true when barriers like application fees actively prevent some students from even trying.

Tina Shaygan, Gauntlet Editorial Board


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