College Elitism

Another day, another $115 spent on college applications.  No, that is not the price of the application.  That’s the price of having my GRE scores sent to schools.

My scores, in case you were wondering, were (I think) 720/98% verbal, 790/92% analytical*, 5.0/81% writing.  I would like to suggest that these scores are good.  Recall that the GREs are only taken by people applying to graduate school; according to the census, only about 1/4 of the population of the US even gets a bachelor’s degree.  I’m not sure how many of those apply to graduate schools, but 10% of the population has a graduate degree.  I mention this because I sometimes feel like I live in an alternate reality where these scores are not really anything to write home about.

Of course it’s tautological to say that grad schools are elitist based on ability.  I, however, am more and more astounded at how elitist they are based on income.  Undergraduate institutions are usually pretty doable on scholarships unless you have $50,000 worth of furniture; grad school should be even easier because it’s supposed to be fully funded regardless of student income.  But that’s only true once you get there, and getting there is a pricey endeavor.

For instance, I’m getting a vibe that ETS, administrator of the GREs, is avariciously motivated.  Yes, there’s a fee-reduction program…offered on a first-come, first-served basis.  And that’s fee reduction, not fee elimination; they generously charge you just half as much.

Oh, and parking at the test location costs $12.  They don’t validate.

Grad application fees vary, but I’d say average out at about $80.  Virtually every school will offer to waive the fee…if you meet the ETS-approved qualifications.

Some undergraduate institutions, like mine, send free transcripts; others may charge as much as $5 each.

And then there’s what I just paid for:  $23 each to send my GRE scores to schools.

Tally it all up: A US student could pay $160 + $12 + $80 + $5+ $23 = $303 to apply to a single graduate school.  If you happen to be underprivileged in the correct ways to get all the possible financial assistance, you’ll pay $80 + $12 + $5 + $23 = $120.  Notice that you’re still coughing up $40 in small fees that can’t be waived or refunded.  That’s what owns you if you actually are on a tight budget: You may not have $20 or $10 or $5 to spend on an unexpected fee, and so you find yourself nickel and dimed out of an education.  And this is the cost of a single application.  It’s much wiser to apply to several schools.  And above and beyond all that, these expenses don’t guarantee you admission.  Particularly if your number of applications was limited by finances, you may end up having spent money you didn’t have for nothing more than a pile of rejections.  It’s easy to understand why poor applicants might just give up on getting an advanced degree.


*You may have deduced that the analytical section has an absurdly high average and low standard deviation.  It does because math problems are so objective that, if you’re applying to a graduate program in science or engineering, you’re basically expected to get all the answers right (the mean is around 700).  It’s harder to hold the same standard for the verbal section, because the questions are a little more subjective and often it’s more a matter of one answer being better than another, rather than one being right and another being wrong, and of course all bets are off with the writing section.

Fun fact: ETS is moving towards having the analytical writing section graded entirely by computer.  I’m sure that will end well.


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One response to “College Elitism

  1. Your post is so true everywhere. First, “they” tell us to get educated and “trained” so we can earn better. Then they pull a stunt like bleeding everyone through the nose just to get past the front door. How is anyone going to pay that whopping $300 just to apply? Don’t you have to have a postgrad degree to earn that much? Hmm… shome mishtake here.

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