As I counsel graduate school applicants and conduct
workshops on preparing for graduate admission, two of the most frequent
questions I encounter are "How much does it cost to apply?" and
"When are these stupid applications due?" In all honesty, I was taken
aback initially by these questions, instead anticipating the other common
questions centering on GREs, GPAs, and undergraduate course selection (the
subjects of the earlier two articles in this series). What eventually dawned on
me is that students are grounded in the daily reality of the application
process, whereas faculty members are often consumed with lofty academic
considerations. The purpose of this brief article, then, is to get
down-and-dirty and address the realistic questions of "how much and
This article distills extensive data on applications
fees and admission deadlines from the 1994 edition of Graduate Study in
Psychology (American Psychological Association, 1994). Our study analyzed
all the numerical data in that volume, which reports information on 559
departments and 2,023 graduate programs in the United States and Canada.
Details and limitations of the study are presented in our American
Psychologist article (Norcross, Hanych, & Terranova, 1996).
The average application fee in 1993 was $25 for master's departments (SD
= $15; Mdn = $25; n = 173) and $31 for doctoral departments (SD
= $14; Mdn = $30; n = 336). (Canadian fees were converted to U.S.
dollars.) At the lowest end of the fee range were 7% of the departments that
charged nothing; at the high end, a single department that charged $100.
To investigate whether application fees had varied
over the years in constant dollars, we adjusted the 1970 and 1979 fees reported
by Stoup and Benjamin (1982) into 1993 amounts. The fee adjustment calculations
were based on the Consumer Price Index, an indicator of the overall level of
prices in the economy. The constant dollar amount for graduate school
applications has increased in a linear fashion for both master's and doctoral
departments. In 1993 dollars, the average application fee had risen from $17 to
$23 to $25 in master's departments, and from $23 to $26 to $31 in doctoral
Independent of the application fee, chairs of
graduate programs were asked whether their school would waive the application
fee on the basis of student financial hardship. Fully 396 of the 559 graduate
department chairs did not respond to this question. Of the remaining 163
departments, 95% responded affirmatively to the possibility of a fee waiver.
However, we are left wondering about particular departments or general patterns
with such massive amounts of missing data.
Deadlines for applications for graduate study in the fall semester ranged from
November 1 of the previous year (< 1% of programs) to September 1 of that
academic year (also < 1% of programs). In between these rare extremes were
three fourths of the graduate programs with deadlines between January 15 and
A couple of systematic differences in application
deadlines merit discussion. First, doctoral programs consistently required that
application materials be received a few weeks earlier than master's programs.
The median deadline for doctoral programs (N = 1064) was February 1, and
for master's programs (N = 740) it was March 1. Second, as a rule,
APA-accredited clinical psychology programs reported the earliest deadlines.
Practically all of these programs posted deadlines between December 15 and
March 1 (Mdn = January 15), notably earlier than other types of doctoral
programs and clinical master's programs.
Expect master's programs to charge you about $25 for the privilege of being
considered for admission to their programs, and expect doctoral programs to
charge you about $30. Always inquire about the possibility of a fee waiver if
you are experiencing financial hardship or are a member of an underrepresented
group the program is attempting to recruit. That some students cannot afford
the fee is the reason schools make the allowance in the first place, so please
feel no compunction about requesting a fee waiver if it might apply to your
Of course, the application fee is only the beginning
of the expensive proposition of applying to graduate schools. Aside from your
personal time (a cost in itself!), you must consider the application fee ($25 -
$30 on average), the GRE registration fees ($64 for the General Test and $64
for the Psychology Subject Test), transcript costs, photocopying, postage, and
the inevitable phone calls. All told, I have estimated that applying to 12
graduate programs will average $1,000 (Norcross, Sayette, & Mayne, 1996).
By requesting the fee waiver and applying selectively, however, I have
counseled students who have kept this figure down to just a few hundred
Expect a three-month window of January 1 to March 1
for the application deadline. Working backward from these dates, it should be
immediately apparent that you cannot wait until December or the winter break to
initiate a diligent application process. Securing letters of recommendation,
registering for entrance exams (e.g., GREs, MATs), submitting transcripts, and
completing the applications forms will take several months.
Applying to graduate school is like planning a
political campaign or a military operation. It is impossible to begin too soon
or to be too thorough (Megargee, 1990). Detailed timelines for the application
process are provided in several graduate application guides, including the
American Psychological Association's (1993) Getting In, Keith-Spiegel's
(1991) The Complete Guide to Graduate School Admission, and Norcross,
Sayette, and Mayne's (1996) An Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in
Clinical and Counseling Psychology. Recognize this fact about the
application process and start at least a year before you expect to begin
graduate school. This is the down-and-dirty reality of the graduate
admission process to competitive programs. And good luck!
American Psychological Association. (1993). Getting in. Washington,
DC: American Psychological Association.
American Psychological Association. (1994). Graduate
study in psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Keith-Spiegel, P. (1991). The complete guide to
graduate school admission. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Megargee, E. I. (1990). A guide to obtaining a
psychology internship. Muncie, IN: Accelerated Development.
Norcross, J. C., Hanych, J. M., & Terranova, R.
D. (1996). Graduate study in psychology: 1992-1993. American Psychologist,
Norcross, J. C., Sayette, M. A., & Mayne, T. J.
(1996). Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling
psychology. New York: Guilford.
Stoup, C. M., & Benjamin, L. T. (1982). Graduate
study in psychology, 1970-1979. American Psychologist, 37, 1186-1202.