4 Smart Tips to Cover the Costs of Applying to Grad School

 May 28, 2020
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cost applying for grad school

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Before you have to worry about paying for tuition for graduate school, you need to think about the cost of grad school applications. Along with application fees, you might need to pay for tests, travel expenses, or a deposit to hold your place in next year’s class.

If you’re stressed about how to pay for all this, there are options available to help. Below are four suggestions for handling the cost of grad school applications and the other expenses that go with it.

4 ways to cover the cost of grad school applications

1. Request application and GRE fee waivers
2. Sign up for a new credit card
3. Take out a personal loan
4. Find ways to earn more money

1. Request application and GRE fee waivers

Two major costs of applying to grad school are application and testing fees. Applying to graduate school at UCLA, for instance, costs $120, which is non-refundable. If you’re applying to multiple programs, the application fees will add up quickly.

Many graduate programs also require scores from a graduate exam, such as the GRE. Taking the GRE just once costs $205, but some students take it two or three times to achieve their target scores. Plus, there’s also the cost of test preparation books and classes, not to mention any specific GRE subject tests your program requires for admission.

Fortunately, most schools offer fee waivers to students in need. For an application or GRE fee waiver, contact the financial aid offices of your prospective schools. You’ll have to provide documents to prove that paying for the application and exam causes financial hardship.

If you qualify, the school will issue you a fee reduction voucher that covers part or all of these fees.

2. Sign up for a new credit card

Another way to pay for the costs of applying to grad school is with a low- or no-interest credit card. Some credit cards offer 0% introductory annual percentage rate (APR) financing for up to 21 months after you open an account.

Whatever purchases you make during this period, you can pay them off without accruing any interest. If you’re confident that you can pay off your balances before the promotional period ends, then you’re effectively getting a 0% interest loan.

The risk here is carrying a balance once the promotional period ends. Credit card interest rates are sky-high – the average credit card APR is about 19%, according to CompareCards. Credit card debt is one of the most unforgiving kinds of debt, so only go this route if you’re sure you can track your spending and pay off your balance before the real APR kicks in.

Also, note that opening a new credit card can make a dent on your credit score. But as long as you spend responsibly, your credit score should bounce back.

3. Take out a personal loan

If you have big expenses and no way to cover them, consider taking out a personal loan. Unlike student loans, personal loans are not tied to a specific purpose, which means you can spend the money however you want. If approved, funds from a personal loan will be deposited straight into your bank account.

That being said, you’ll need to pay back this debt over time. Your loans will have an interest rate attached to them, so you’ll end up spending more than you took out in the long run.

That’s why you should only take out a personal loan if absolutely necessary. Furthermore, you should only take out the minimum amount you need to cover the costs of applying for graduate school.

Compare rates from private lenders

A few reputable lenders for personal loans are SoFi, CommonBond and Avant. SoFi Bank, N.A, for example, approves personal loans of between $5,000 and $100,000 with fixed interest rates that start at 7.99%.

With a quick pre-application process online, you can see if you qualify. Lenders set different requirements in terms of credit scores and annual income.

Contact your local credit union or community bank

Credit unions and local banks also offer some of the best loan terms. Credit unions, in particular, are non-profit organizations that provide perks for their members, including lower interest rates for loans.

Credit unions have certain requirements to join. For instance, you may need to live locally or be part of a professional organization. To find credit unions, check out the locator tools on the National Credit Union Association website.

When applying for a personal loan, shop around for your best terms. Look for a lending company, credit union, or bank that offers a manageable repayment plan with low interest rates.

4. Find ways to earn more money

Going to graduate school is a great way to acquire skills and make progress in your career, but loan or credit card debt could hold you back as you’re trying to move forward.

Try to reduce the amount of graduate school loans you need to take out by increasing your income. Perhaps you can find part-time work with a flexible schedule, or maybe you have a certain talent or skill that you can turn into a lucrative side hustle.

Once you start your program, consider part-time work on or off-campus. Juggling your time between classes and work is a big challenge but you’ll be glad you did if it saves you from excessive student loan payments in the future.

Make sure graduate school is worth the cost

Ideally, your graduate degree has a high return on investment. If that’s the case, then the cost of grad school applications will hopefully pale in comparison to the earnings you’ll make in the future.

Choose a program that will bring about tangible benefits in your income and career. Although you’re investing some serious start-up costs, your future self should be able to reimburse the bill and then some.

Which graduate degrees have the highest return on investment? See the 10 valuable degrees that can make you $100K or more.

Need a student loan?

Here are our top student loan lenders of 2022!
LenderVariable APREligibility 
2.49% – 13.85%1Undergraduate

Visit College Ave

2.55% – 11.44%2Undergraduate

Visit Earnest

3.25% – 13.59%3Undergraduate

Visit SallieMae

0.00% – 23.00%4Undergraduate

Visit Edly

3.25% – 9.69%6Undergraduate



Visit FundingU

* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.

1 Important Disclosures for College Ave.

CollegeAve Disclosures

College Ave Student Loans products are made available through Firstrust Bank, member FDIC, First Citizens Community Bank, member FDIC, or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC.. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.

  1. As certified by your school and less any other financial aid you might receive. Minimum $1,000.
  2. Rates shown are for the College Ave Undergraduate Loan product and include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
  3. This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a freshman borrower who selects the Deferred Repayment Option with a 10-year repayment term, has a $10,000 loan that is disbursed in one disbursement and a 8.35% fixed Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $179.18 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $21,501.54. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.

Information advertised valid as of 9/15/2022. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation. Approved interest rate will depend on the creditworthiness of the applicant(s), lowest advertised rates only available to the most creditworthy applicants and require selection of full principal and interest payments with the shortest available loan term.

2 Rate range above includes optional 0.25% Auto Pay discount. Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

Actual rate and available repayment terms will vary based on your income. Fixed rates range from 3.47% APR to 13.03% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Variable rates range from 2.80% APR to 11.69% APR (excludes 0.25% Auto Pay discount). Earnest variable interest rate student loan refinance loans are based on a publicly available index, the 30-day Average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (SOFR) published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The variable rate is based on the rate published on the 25th day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month, rounded to the nearest hundredth of a percent. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Although the rate will vary after you are approved, it will never exceed 36% (the maximum allowable for this loan). Please note, Earnest Private Student Loans are not available in Nevada. Our lowest rates are only available for our most credit qualified borrowers and contain our .25% auto pay discount from a checking or savings account. It is important to note that the 0.25% Auto Pay discount is not available while loan payments are deferred.

3 Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.

4 Important Disclosures for Edly.

Edly Disclosures

1. Loan Example:

  • Loans from $5,000 – $20,000
  • Example: $10,000 IBR Loan with a 7% gross income payment percentage for a Senior student making $65,000 annually throughout the life of the loan.
    • Payments deferred for the first 12 months during final year of education.
    • After which, $270 Monthly payment for 12 months.
    • Then $379 Monthly payment for 44 months.
    • Followed by one final payment of $137 for a total of $20,610 paid over the life of the loan.

About this example

The initial payment schedule is set upon receiving final terms and upon confirmation by your school of the loan amount. You may repay this loan at any time by paying an effective APR of 23%. The maximum amount you will pay is $22,500 (not including Late Fees and Returned Check Fees, if any). The maximum number of regularly scheduled payments you will make is 60. You will not pay more than 23% APR. No payment is required if your gross earned income is below $30,000 annually or if you lose your job and cannot find employment.

2. Edly Student IBR Loans are unsecured personal student loans issued by FinWise Bank, a Utah chartered commercial bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to eligibility criteria and review of creditworthiness and history. Terms and conditions apply.

5 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  • Variable Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates are based on the 30-day average Secured Overnight Financing Rate (“SOFR”) index, as published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of September 1, 2022, the 30-day average SOFR index is 2.23%. Variable interest rates will fluctuate over the term of the loan with changes in the SOFR index, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree and presence of a co-signer. The maximum variable interest rate is the greater of 21.00% or the prime rate plus 9.00%.
  • Fixed Rate Disclosure: Fixed rate ranges are based on applicable terms, level of degree, and presence of a co-signer.
  • Lowest Rate Disclosure: Lowest rates are only available for the most creditworthy applicants, require a 5-year repayment term, immediate repayment, a graduate or medical degree (where applicable), and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Rates are subject to additional terms and conditions, and are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.


    Undergraduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-10.35% (3.25% – 9.69% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 4.24% – 10.59% (4.24% – 9.93% APR). 

    Graduate Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.90% (3.75% – 9.68% APR). Fixed interest rates range from  5.22% – 10.14% (5.22% – 9.91% APR). 

    Business/Law Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.35% (3.75% – 9.16% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.20% – 9.59% (5.20% – 9.39% APR).

    Medical/Dental Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.75%-9.02% (3.75% -8.98% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 5.18% – 9.26% (5.18% – 9.22% APR). 

    Parent Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 3.25%-9.21% (3.25% – 9.21% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 3.96%-9.50% (3.96%-9.50% APR).

    Bar Study Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 6.58%-11.72% (6.58% – 11.62% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 7.39% – 12.94% (7.40% – 12.82% APR). 

    Medical Residency Rate Disclosure: Variable interest rates range from 5.67%-9.17% (5.67% – 8.76% APR). Fixed interest rates range from 6.99% – 10.49% (6.97% – 10.08% APR).

6 Important Disclosures for Funding U.

Funding U Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are made by Funding University which is a for-profit enterprise. Funding University is not affiliated with the school you are attending or any other learning institution. None of the information contained in Funding University’s website constitutes a recommendation, solicitation or offer by Funding University or its affiliates to buy or sell any securities or other financial instruments or other assets or provide any investment advice or service.