Applying to Graduate School 101: What does it cost?

Graduate students in Pi Alpha Chemical Society (funded by student activity fees) practice a cloud demo for an outreach event.
Graduate students in Pi Alpha Chemical Society (funded by student activity fees) practice a cloud demo for an outreach event.

This post is part of a series about applying to graduate school–at Emory and in general. Our goal is to demystify the application process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies. This post provides an overview of the costs–and benefits–of applying to and attending graduate school.

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There are two key financial issues to consider when applying to graduate school–the cost to apply and the cost to attend. While other financial issues may come into play, these are the basic concerns most students face and the areas this blog will cover.

Cost to Apply

Most graduate schools require an application fee. The fee goes to pay for everything from the admissions management system (Emory uses CollegeNET) to the salaries of the admissions representatives who spend time reading each application.

At Emory, we are committed the the practice of whole file review–this means that every application is read from cover to cover by an admissions representative. We do not use test scores or any other factor to weed students out of the pool prior to file review. Because of this, reviewing each application takes time and has a real cost. An application fee can help ensure that students are serious about applying while also contributing to the costs of a thorough review.

That said, we never want the application fee to be a burden that keeps students from being able to apply. Emory’s Laney Graduate School is proud to offer a fee waiver to applicants who are affiliated with any one of the following programs:

  • ABRCMS
  • SACNAS
  • McNair Scholars
  • MMUF-Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellowship
  • NIH Graduate Professional School Fair
  • …and several more.

Many other schools take this same approach and some may offer waivers to students who visit or participate in school-specific programs (Emory STEM Symposium participants receive a waiver.)

If you do not qualify for a waiver via one of these programs, you can still request one from many schools on the basis of financial hardship. For Emory, applicants applying under this designation should meet the U.S. Department of Education definition of “low income” (you don’t need to be a U.S. citizen, you just need to fit the definition in these guidelines.) If you qualify, fill out the form at this link and keep in mind that it may take up to ten days to receive a reply. We cannot extend the deadline for students waiting on the fee waiver process.

To find out about fee waivers at other schools, try Google-ing the school name + fee waiver. Some schools do not advertise their fee waivers in an obvious place, but many do offer them. There is also a consortium called the “B1G Academic Alliance” that offers FreeApp. This allows you to apply for free to any PhD or Masters of Fine Arts program at participating universities. The free waiver is not automatic, but it cuts down on how many places you have to contact. Emory is not currently a member.

Finally, it’s important to note that some schools do not require an application fee at all or offer fee waivers in specific years to specific programs, such as the year of a university milestone or a year in which a program opens admissions or hires new faculty.

Beyond the application fee, there can be costs related to the GRE and TOEFL and a fee for a transcript from your undergraduate institution. The Educational Testing Service offers some support for students facing financial hardship related to the GRE. Emory Chemistry does not require or allow submission of the GRE test, so this is not a consideration for us! (Learn more here.) Emory accepts unofficial transcripts for the application–these are often available free to the student. We do require an official, sealed transcript be submitted directly to the graduate school if a student accepts an offer of admission. We also require submission of either TOEFL or IELTS scores for international applicants. We will waive this requirement for students who have studied for one or more years at a domestic institution. Often, students ask to provide additional documents…subject test scores, certificates, etc. The correct (and least expensive) way to incorporate these is in your C.V./resume or personal statement. Please do not provide materials that are not requested.

We hope that cost will not be a barrier for any Emory applicant. Please contact us if you need assistance.

Also, if you find resources that we have not listed here in your application hunt, feel free to contact us (gradchem [at] emory [dot] edu) so we can add them to this blog. This Twitter thread by @AmaBemma is fantastic and we have incorporated many of the resources mentioned into this post. (Her Instagram also includes many graduate school resources, although the focus is on English PhD programs.)

Cost to Attend

Beyond the application fees, there are some costs associated with attending graduate school. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • tuition, fees, & insurance
  • room & board (on or off-campus; more commonly off)
  • conference, training, and research travel costs
  • cost of living

We’ll break these costs down down one by one. But first, let’s bring stipends into the mix.  Many graduate schools offer a stipend – that means, a graduate student salary. This is called a stipend rather than a salary because it is support for your education with some requirements attached rather than a variable payment based on punching a clock. It is also likely less than you will make in a “regular” research job to reflect the fact that you are in training. Stipends are taxable income. Tuition waivers (money paid on your behalf as a tuition scholarship) are not taxable.

Emory offers a stipend, tuition waiver, and health insurance subsidy to ALL admitted students. Recently, Laney Graduate School announced the exciting news that Emory has made a $40 million investment in graduate education that will raise all program stipends to $31,000 starting in Fall 2019! So, admitted students in chemistry will now receive:

  • $31,000 base stipend (some students will receive merit fellowships above this amount; all applicants are automatically considered for these fellowships. Raises are given to ALL students, not just new students.)
  • 100% tuition waiver (worth $87,000 in 2018-2019)
  • 100% health insurance subsidy (worth $3,164 in 2017-2018–this covers the full cost of enrollment for health insurance. Students pay insurance-negotiated co-pays and other fees for actual services rendered.)

Cost of living is going to be a factor in how stipends and costs play out for you. Many students move far from home for graduate school and may not be familiar with the costs in a specific city. In Atlanta, housing costs are lower than in other cities. Transportation costs might be higher that some cities, depending on where you live and how you prefer to travel.

Compare potential stipends – or, as you get further along, actual financial packages that accompany admissions offers – by adjusting for the cost of living in different cities.  Here is one site that lets you do that https://www.nerdwallet.com/cost-of-living-calculator; there are plenty of others. For example, Nerdwallet shows that you would need $55,262 in San Francisco, $71,490 in Manhattan, and $27,742 in Durham, N.C. to match the spending power of Emory’s $31,000 stipend in Atlanta, GA.

More About Tuition, Fees, & Insurance

Most reputable chemistry PhD programs in chemistry will cover all or most of your tuition cost. You may be responsible for a small contribution to tuition as well as student fees. Additionally, the requirements attached to your tuition waiver will vary. These might include:

  • required TA service
  • time limits related to PhD completion
  • a requirement to obtain in-state residency status within a year (for state schools) which includes the cost of transferring driver’s license and car insurance

All schools will charge some fees and it can be hard to compare. Keep in mind fees that might be rolled in to other costs or they might seem optional while actually being difficult to avoid (like an optional computing fee without which you cannot access campus wi-fi!) Outside of parking, none of Emory’s fees are optional, but they cover a wide range of benefits.

Emory requires students to pay fees each semester of about $100-$400. A full fee schedule is available on the graduate school’s website. At Emory, fees pay for:

  • access to campus athletic facilities
  • computing
  • a one-time transcript fee that pays for all future transcripts
  • free visits to student health (pay for suggested treatments and medications at the health insurance-negotiated rate)
  • mental health support, including access to Emory’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
  • student activities, including Pi Alpha Chemical Society, our graduate student social and service group that provides free and low-cost activities to all graduate students

Importantly, Emory’s stipend support is not contingent on research or teaching services. All students do some teaching as part of their education and all chemistry students will engage in research, but only through structured activities that are part of their training–not as work in exchange for scholarships and fellowships. Support is also guaranteed to continue at the same level as long as students make sufficient academic progress. We do not require advanced students to compete for their core funding. In fact, advanced students are eligible to apply for special fellowships, such as the Dean’s Teaching Fellowship–and chemistry students have been very successful in securing these fellowships.

Why does insurance roll in to this whole picture? Many schools have a health insurance requirement, meaning that all enrolled students must be insured. Some schools offer health insurance subsidies to help students meet this requirement (Emory pays 100% of health insurance enrollment costs for chemistry students). If insurance is not offered or required by your school, consider that enrollment in health insurance (or not) will be a factor in how far your salary will stretch.

Room & Board

The costs of housing, food, and incidentals will vary from place to place (see the information on “cost of living” above.) School-affiliated graduate housing is less common than undergraduate housing. It’s more likely to be available in areas where the cost of living makes it difficult from graduate students to rent at market rates.

Emory has two housing options that are affiliated with the university. They give preference to Emory students but are not run by Emory. They are President’s Park and Campus Crossings. Both have furnished and unfurnished options and Campus Crossings offers roommate matching.

Emory also offers a moderated web portal called Emory Off-Campus Housing where curated listings for apartment and house rentals can be viewed with an Emory netID and password.

Some general considerations about housing:

  • Does it matter to you if you can afford to live without a roommate?
    Our students have found this very possible in Atlanta.
  • Do you want pets?
    Atlanta is VERY pet friendly, including in rental apartments. The cost of a pet fee can add to start-up costs in a new living situation.
  • Are you in a position to consider purchasing a home and, if so, is your school of choice located in an area with affordable housing stock?
    Home costs are rising in Atlanta, but still affordable within driving distance of Emory. We have a few students each year who purchase a home or condo, often renting rooms to other students.
  • Do you have accessibility or health needs related to housing?
    Both of Emory’s affiliated complexes have accessible units and are on a shuttle route that connects to Emory healthcare locations
  • How will you get to school?
    Many schools charge for parking on campus. Emory allows students to buy a yearly parking pass to a specific deck for about $650. Some schools have less expensive parking, some offer a “hunting” pass where you can park but must find a space in one of any number of decks, some schools only offer satellite parking to students, etc. Consider if your school is accessible by walking or public transport. Consider your level of comfort with your transport options and whether you will have access to a car. Consider your probable working hours and family needs.

Transportation and parking is one of those tricky financial and time costs that many students forget to consider. Think also about the cost of moving to school from home. Some schools offer moving subsidies (unfortunately, Emory currently does not). Emory does offer an early stipend start date of August 15th so that students are compensated for orientation activities.

A note about food? Well, graduate students are experts at finding free food and many universities offer multiple events monthly or even weekly with some free food. This is not to suggest that students should rely on free food and we strongly support (and provide!) a stipend that allows students the spending power to manage food costs alongside other imperatives. But finding free food is a skill that many graduate students excel at!

Conference, Training, and Research Travel Costs

From application fees to apartments, many of the considerations listed here are most important to a new graduate student. Keep in mind the costs that you might encounter as your career progresses. When will you want to go to conferences in your field? Do you need to use a research instrument at another school or train with someone off-site? Will study abroad be part of your graduate student journey? (Emory’s NSF Center for Selective C-H Functionalization offers funded study abroad opportunities for graduate students.)

At Emory, Laney students are eligible to apply for up to $7,500 of non-competitive research and training funds called Professional Development Support (PDS) Funds. Additional conference and research costs are often (but not always) covered by a student’s P.I. The Graduate Student Council offers a $250 conference attendance grant to students. Our students have also been competitive for fellowships that fund conference travel (sometimes as a supplement to a larger fellowship award, sometimes as a smaller award given directly by the national organization of a specific conference.)

Other Costs

Other things can come up over five or six years that might surprise you. The following questions cover a few more (although still not all) additional financial questions. You don’t need to have all the answers to attend graduate school. No one has a crystal ball (or, if you do, call us! we’re curious who’s getting the next few Nobel Prizes in Chemistry!)

  • What are your options if you need to take time off for personal or health reasons? (Emory offers a stipend pause with program and graduate school approval)
  • Will the ability of a partner to find a job or a child to attend school near your selected grad school change your financial picture?
  • Will you want to take time off for parental leave? (Emory does not currently offer parental leave, although grants sometimes allow this cost)
  • Do you have the wardrobe required for future career milestones? Conferences? Interviews? When will these costs factor in?
  • Will you need to pay fees related to visas, passports?
  • How often will you travel to visit friends and family? What are the costs? Will work schedule flexibility be a factor in how far ahead you can book flights?
  • Are you responsible for parents, dependents, etc.?
  • Are you aware of tax laws that might affect you due to factors like marital status, citizenship status, etc.?

Beyond the Numbers

Budgeting is essential for graduate students (we like YNAB!) But many graduate programs offer support that makes graduate school a sustainable financial option.

Without a doubt, pursuing a graduate education comes with a cost: though they can come close, fellowships may not cover 100% of your living costs, and by going to graduate school you are delaying or interrupting your professional career and the climb up the salary ladder.

If you decide to make that choice — because you are committed to pursuing your curiosity, to developing your capacities, to contributing to the development of knowledge and the advancement of the public good, or for some other reason — and if the Laney Graduate School turns out to be the place for you, then we are committed to providing the financial assistance to make it a feasible and attractive option.

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Ready to apply? Visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply. Applications are due by December 1st, 2018 for entry in Fall 2019.

Want to learn more about chemistry @ Emory? Fill out an inquiry form and join our mailing list!