The costs of applying to PhD programs

This post will read like a laundry list but so is the nature of a budget. You will soon realize that it’s quite expensive to apply to PhD programs, especially if you’re a foreign student applying for a PhD program that requires a GRE subject test. I will also categorize by whether these expenditures are incurred only by internationals or by domestic students as well as whether the expenditures are school-dependent or school-independent. Plus you will see my school list in its current condition (it’s quite unlikely that I will make any further adjustment at this point, because internal competition is unlikely to be a factor for schools on my current list other than perhaps the two topmost-ranked) as well as how much the applications themselves cost there. I’ll be applying to 10 schools, so keep that in mind.

Costs are in $US unless otherwise indicated. Exchange rates used are that of July 9th, 2014, at the closure of the markets, in this case understood as buying $US with $CAN, rounded up. Prices are also current as of July 9th, 2014. Testing assumes one sitting apiece, taken far enough in advance for the schools to throw out score reports due to “statutes of reservation” (for example, Tufts keeps score reports for three months unless an application is submitted within that timeframe).


School-independent, international-only expenditures:

This list of expenditures assumes that the student comes from a non-English-speaking country. If you earned your bachelor’s degree from an English-language college/university, you may omit the TOEFL and the transcript translations. In my case, some of these expenditures will be incurred only if I am not completely shut out, in which case I will matriculate somewhere without fail.

  • F-1 visa application: $160 (only if one is matriculating somewhere)
  • SEVIS fee: $200 (only if one is matriculating somewhere)
  • Transcript translations: $CAN200/$US188 (costs may vary depending on how many pages there are on the transcript being translated and the number of copies, as well as on the translator)
  • TOEFL: $240 (per sitting)
  • TOEFL score reports: $18 (per recipient)

About transcript translations: before you go on about ordering transcript translations, check whether the programs you’re applying to require official transcripts prior to reviewing applications or only if accepted and matriculating so that you won’t order too many or too few copies.

Section subtotal: $986 (assuming at least one acceptance)/$626 (if completely shut out)


 

School-independent expenditures for everyone:

  • General GRE: $185 (per sitting)
  • Subject GRE: $150 (whenever applicable; per sitting)
  • GRE score reports: $27 (per recipient)

Section subtotal: $632


 

School-specific expenditures for everyone:

  • Transcripts: $CAN11 (unitary costs depend on the institution(s) attended, hence why transcripts appeared in the school-specific category; $CAN77/$US72 total)

Schools marked with an asterisk are schools that require an official transcript for one’s application to be considered. Assume one is using the online application. Behold, the application list (some schools have varying costs for undergrad vs. grad programs, and even variable within grad programs but the prices are that of a physics PhD application):

  • University of Pennsylvania: $80
  • Princeton: $90
  • University of Chicago: $55
  • Tufts: $75*
  • Carnegie Mellon: $0*
  • Ohio State: $70*
  • University of Minnesota: $95
  • University of Michigan: $90
  • Columbia: $105
  • Vanderbilt: $0*
  • Dartmouth: $20*

Section subtotal: $752

Grand total: $2,370 (if admitted to at least one program)/$2,010 (if completely shut out)

Bottom line: applying to just one PhD program in the US is already quite expensive, and it’s often the first application that is the most expensive to write. So, before you aim for graduate schools in the US, check whether the educational or funding conditions are worth the significant costs involved. And, of course, whether your career objectives require it. International students, I know that schools in your home country could be less expensive to apply to in many cases, but sometimes funding or educational conditions may warrant such a move.


 

Suppose now that a student with a 32.6 R-score is competitive for these same schools at the undergraduate level. Admittedly the list below is reach-heavy (the University of North Carolina system enforces the 18% out-of-state cap by severely constraining OOS undergraduate admissions, rendering the Chapel Hill campus every bit as competitive as Duke for international students) but applications to local safeties for one such student are usually as painless as it gets, as long as it doesn’t involve a portfolio, auditioning or interviews.

If I’m not mistaken, although Quebec students do have to send both high school and CEGEP transcripts, American admissions offices will rely almost entirely on the R-score as far as grades are concerned. The lowest R-score I’ve ever heard about from a Quebecer Ivy League admit is in the 32 range (got into Yale, and matriculated at Yale with 45 credits of advanced standing IIRC) Should one such student desire to apply to the same list (I think that student will net at least one acceptance) as a prospective undergraduate, here are the costs incurred (other than the international-only expenditures, which remain the same):

School-independent expenditures for everyone:

  • General SAT: $85.50 (per sitting)
  • Subject SAT: $59 (on registration) + $26 for a language test with listening or +$16 for another subject test
  • ACT: $54.50 (per sitting; assumes writing component is in effect)
  • SAT score reports: $11.25 (per recipient)
  • ACT score reports: $12 (per recipient; multiply by the number of sittings)

Section subtotal: $316.25 (if only the SAT is taken, in addition to 3 subject tests)/$417.25 (if the ACT is taken but not the general SAT; 3 subject tests are assumed)/$512.75 (if both the ACT and the general SAT are taken; 3 subject tests are assumed)

School-specific expenditures for everyone:

  • Transcripts: $CAN11 (unitary costs depend on the institution(s) attended, hence why transcripts appeared in the school-specific category, plus one transcript is usually necessary upon matriculation; $CAN132/$US124 total)

Schools marked with an asterisk are schools that are part of the Common Application. Assume one is using the online application. Here’s the list, with undergraduate application fees:

  • University of Pennsylvania: $75*
  • Princeton: $65*
  • University of Chicago: $75*
  • Tufts: $70*
  • Carnegie Mellon: $75*
  • Ohio State: $60*
  • University of Minnesota: $55
  • University of Michigan: $75*
  • Columbia: $85*
  • Vanderbilt: $50*
  • Dartmouth: $80*

Section subtotal: $890

Grand total: $2,191.25 (if the general SAT is taken alongside 3 subject SAT tests)/$2,292.25 (if the ACT is taken alongside 3 subject SAT tests)/$2,387.75 (if one takes both the ACT and the general SAT, as well as 3 subject tests)

Conclusion: undergraduate admissions can be every bit as costly as graduate admissions for internationals. Given that many colleges in the US give paltry financial aid to international students (most of the ones with any degree of generosity are, in fact, “reach-for-anyone” schools) an international student is better off going to the US as a PhD student than as an undergraduate unless one is a recruited athlete in a “full-ride” sport or in a family that can afford full freight.

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