A student currently in an MA program writes:
How widespread a problem is this? Please provide links to other examples. I assume these policies are overwhelmingly set by the central administration, not the philosophy departments. Do any departments have their own policies/procedures to waive fees based on economic need? Signed comments will be very strongly preferred.
I am writing to you at the suggestion of several professors of philosophy, who thought this might deserve the attention of the greater philosophical community. I am in the process of applying to graduate schools in philosophy for Fall 2014 (in the United States and Canada).
I am shocked that there are several institutions that do not offer need-based fee waivers for applications. Many top programs do offer waivers for those with demonstrated need or who qualify based on participation in specific programs, but several major programs (Harvard, UNC*, Toronto, etc.) do not.
Students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds are already playing a game pitted against them. Besides those things which I surely do not need to repeat, but which are known to keep promising students out of undergraduate and graduate programs, applying to graduate school also means paying $165 for the GRE and $25 for each school a report is sent to.
Everyone is aware of how difficult it is to get into graduate school, and I have not met anyone that is applying to less than 10 schools. Even if half those schools waive their fees, that's $250 in GRE reports and probably close to $500 in the other application fees. With small chances of admittance for even highly-qualified candidates, it seems a poor investment to put in so much money when one is lucky if they have that much disposable money at all. For a student like me, there is no option but to remove my application. What was a small chance becomes no chance.
Schools that do not provide the fee waiver option send the message that they have no interest in students who cannot afford hundreds of dollars in application fees. Financially disadvantaged students are faced with a decision: do they use their limited funds to apply to the (likely higher-ranked and more competitive) program they would love to attend, or do they apply to the program they are more likely to be admitted to?
*At UNC, it's not possible if you had any period of time for which you weren't enrolled; a condition is "no breaks in enrollment from point of entry at the undergraduate level." This seems to target a particularly vulnerable group: people who took time off to work, either during or after undergraduate programs.