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 when."
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 departments.
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 affir- matively 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 March 1.
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 circumstance.
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 dollars.
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, 51, 631-643.
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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John C. Norcross, PhD, is professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, where he has served as Psi Chi faculty advisor for the past 10 years. The following feature article (the second in a series of three) is based on his recent American Psychologist article, "Graduate Study in Psychology: 1992-1993." Dr. Norcross also is the senior author of Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology (1996).
Fall 1997 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 18-19), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 1997, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.