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Two things that can reduce the cost of applying: On the applicant's part: The advice seems to be trending, from both faculty and grad students, to apply to 15-20 programs on the grounds that this represents an ideal optimization of the odds of acceptance. Without commenting on the merits of this number, I would like to point out that 15-20 schools, in the abstract, will eventually turn out to be, in actuality, 15-20 schools with real names and real faculty members. It would be advisable, then, taking into account information such as the desirability of the city, feasibility of one's partner being gainfully employed, placement record of the school, etc., that one seriously ask the question, "Would I be willing and would it be prudent for me to accept an offer from School X [which as it turns out, is the 18th preferable 'choice' for the student]?" This may be a good reason to narrow down the number from 15-20 programs, because, although it is understandable that a student might, in the current climate, wish to get into ANY program, this will not necessarily be in the student's best self-interest. On the philosophy department's part: Since it is accepted that departments do not have the power to change the price of applications, perhaps they can make the means to reducing this cost more explicit on their web page. Often graduate divisions will have waivers for recipients of financial aid, but this information is often hard to find and even more Byzantine to follow. That is, often to be eligible, there must be a letter sent (or scanned) from the student's current financial aid department stating that the student has received continuous financial aid since initial enrollment and that the cost of application would present an undue hardship. Sometimes very specific wording must be followed, and there are deadlines weeks before the application deadline, and then of course, the waiver has to be approved; it doesn't just "happen." If departments posted this information on their "Phd program" or "Prospective Students" page, it would save a lot of time, as I can say from personal experience, research on all the relevant aspects of 15-20 schools and their faculties is very time consuming. Lastly, to stave off any "students are lazy, they need to research their own waivers" objection, in my conversations with other applicants the majority are unaware of the existence of application waivers. So this would obviously serve as an informational token of good will as well.
CLARIFICATION: The GRE allows one to send reports to 4 instituitions for "free" after you pay the cost to take the test (~$160, I think). Around 2/3 of the institutions I applied did not require (the expense of) official transcripts, unless one was admitted. So universities should have no problem extending this practice to GRE scores. In fact, as it is, all of the 15 places I applied to also requested self-reported scores. As far as application fees, many (most in my experience) institutions allow for waivers for financial reasons or otherwise (veteran, etc.). You will have to do some digging around on websites to find this information, however. Universities have little incentive to make giving them your money more difficult. Often you will have to have a letter from your financial aid office stating such and such, which varies by applications. The required wording on these is very finnicky, as it turns out. So you will have to be in contact with your financial aid office at your current institution to work this out. Lastly, since the departments in question are not in charge of collecting the monies (nor do they receive any kickback from it, if a Leiter thread from a few years back is to be believed), then appealing to the department itself seems pointless. This is something that current grad students need to push to look out for their future colleagues. However, there is obviously little incentive for that.
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Aug 2, 2015