Meredith Turner
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The I-Opener: Fantastic Graduate-School Expenses and How to Afford Them

Steven Toaddy

Though there are myriad wonderful resources (see the end of this column for a partial list) available through SIOP and through other sources that offer advice to graduate students on everything from how to seek out graduate programs to how to make the most of attending SIOP’s annual conference to, indeed, how to enact money-saving tips specific to graduate study, I can’t locate any1 that accomplish the modest objective that I have for this issue of the I-Opener: to identify specific, temporally-constrained categories of expenses that graduate students face in our field.2 Here’s why I’m doing this:

  1. Costs of attending graduate school are not distributed evenly across one’s tenure in a program; knowing when costly periods are likely to crop up can help one plan for them.
  2. Costs of attending graduate school begin well before matriculation and extend to well after the last class is completed; a realistic understanding of this will, again, help in planning at both ends of the experience.
  3. Having financial-planning tips and tricks is great, but knowing why such planning is prudent may help motivate students to enact it.


As a bonus, I’ll share some of the tips that my SMEs provided to deal with these tough financial periods of life (though, again, there are other resources that hit on the same type of content). Note that this is not a report on a rigorous survey of graduate-student expenditures3—we’re working on that, though.


What and When Are the Costs?

Individual paths may vary—one may be attending SIOP annual conferences during one’s middle-undergraduate days, and of course one can return to graduate study well after completing one’s undergraduate degree—but modally, the process of graduate school can be divided into four epochs:


Year -1: Preparation, application, and interviewing. How does one go from undergraduate student to graduate student in I-O psychology? Those of us on the other side of this process (perhaps by some variant of the anthropic principle/survivorship bias), those who often find themselves helping potential I-O graduate students decide whether to pursue study in our field, may struggle to recall the confusion and inefficiency and pain that this process entails—and the costs, as Harrison Wojcik, graduate student at Depaul University, and Sean M. Nobel, PhD student at North Carolina State University help us explore:

  • GRE prep: $150. Tip: Bleh. A whole column could be written on this one. I suppose one could try to borrow a prep book from someone who has gone before.
  • GRE and score sending: $525.
  • Application fees: around $40/school (so perhaps $200-$350). Tip: Only apply for the schools that you actually intend to attend. For real. There are worse things than not getting into graduate school, like spending years in a place that you can’t stand.
  • Transcripts: around $40/school (so perhaps $45-$175).
  • Interview clothing: between $50 and $700.4
  • Campus visit(s): between $250 and $1,010 each, some of which may be reimbursed. Tip: Ask for reimbursement, know what you need to do to be reimbursed, and stay on top of the process. This is true during graduate school as well; keep an eye out for sources of funding. Ask people about them.


Year -0.1 to 0.1: Movement and matriculation. How far you are from your graduate school, what living arrangements you have before you move, and whether you have one or more roommates will substantially affect the cost of the time immediately prior to the first days of class. Some costs that you may accrue immediately prior to starting your first term of graduate study—listed courtesy of an anonymous current graduate student—include:

  • Relocation expenses: $500-$3,000. Don’t forget security deposits, costs for connecting utilities, and the like. This varies so much by location and living situation that basically throwing the “hey think of this” advice at you is the best that we can do.
  • Monthly rent and utilities: anywhere from $400/month to beyond $1,000/month. Tip: Roommates, yo. Also you won’t see the inside of your home much given all of the grad schooling that you’ll be receiving, so this may not be the best place to dump disposable income.
  • Tuition and fees: anywhere from $700/term to upwards of $10,000/term depending on financial aid and in- or out-of-state status. Schools and other resources often provide pretty comprehensive data on the total cost of attendance, so once you figure out into which category you’ll fall for tuition costs, there should be few surprises here.
  • Textbooks: $125/term. Tip: Borrow these from students who have gone before you. Ask the professor for a reading list and buy online/used in advance of the term. This takes particular effort at the very start of graduate school; you may not have solid connections to existing students or faculty that you’d need to make a cost-saving move, so, you know, get to know them.
  • Changing over your license and voting registration: around $100 but a substantial investment of time. Tip: Know well in advance what you should and must do to fulfill the obligations of your program with regards to residency. As Scott Hines of Louisiana Tech University points out, in-state tuition may be based on the completion of paperwork at your institution and on other residency-relevant actions such as establishing your legal residence in the state of your graduate program.


Years 1 through lots: Steady-state performance. Okay, now you’re getting into a groove. Good! Harrison and the same anonymous student gave us some more information regarding regular costs of each year of attendance beyond, of course, continued tuition, fees, rent, textbooks, and the like:

  • SIOP student membership: $50/year. Typically due in April.
  • SIOP (and/or other) conference registration and attendance: around $700 if you get creative. One typically needs to shell out the registration and reservation (hotel and flight) costs well in advance of the April meeting: Think December or January of the previous year. Tip: Get creative indeed: room with others, plan your airport parking and rides and taxis and such to minimize expenditures. Staying in the conference hotel may be a great idea but it is exPENsive. 
  • Cost of owning a vehicle: around $800/year. Tip: Plan for the unexpected here. It’s not just insurance and fuel and payments but also having funds available for unexpected necessary repairs.
  • Professional (school) clothing: $500.5


Year lots: Dissertation, graduation, and career launch. You are getting ready to finish your graduate program! Fantastic! Sonia Oakley, PhD, and Natalie Wright, assessment manager at the College for Financial Planning, have some insights regarding the costs that you can expect:

  • Research costs: $1,300 to $3,000 for dissertation data. Of course you may end up spending nothing on your dissertation, but if you do, the MTurk fees stack up quickly – bear this in mind. There are grants and awards that may help cover these costs, but both the anonymous respondent and Sonia mentioned having paid out of pocket for this.
  • Graduation-related expenses: $25 and (way) up. Your school may require substantial graduation and dissertation-printing fees, but even the most frugal student will encounter some end-of-enrollment costs, and those who want to wear regalia, walk, send graduation announcements, and hold a party are looking at thousands of dollars of expenses.
  • Interview clothing: $50 to $400.6
  • Interview travel: $700/organization. Granted this should be reimbursed fully by the interviewing organization, but reimbursement often means carrying a balance for months. Plan!
  • Relocation expenses. Again. This time your employer may (help) cover them, but perhaps not.
  • Loan repayment. If you take even incredibly modest amounts of loans, expect repayment of at least $50/month to begin soon after graduation. Plan!


Here it is especially important to point out that, depending on how one swings employment (looking at you, academics), one may look forward to 3 months without income between the end of one’s graduate training and the start of one’s job. Plan!


Oh and also. Depending on how/whether you live your life during graduate school, there are so many other categories that may apply during any and all of the above epochs, including:

  • Having a pet: $1,600/year.
  • Being a member of a family (travel, gifts).
  • Self-care. Read that however you want – movie nights, dating, pedicures, counseling, medication. Speaking of which,
  • Medical insurance. You’ll want this. Good luck.
  • Dating and/or marriage. People actually do this during graduate school! They have children too! Way stronger than I am, those folks.
  • Eating food. Sounds important, right?
  • Laundry. You got all of that fancy interview/student clothing: Wash it!
  • Taxes. Death isn’t here for you yet, but taxes certainly are! Remember them, and remember that they’re collected on some scholarships, grants, fellowships, and other pennies-from-heaven income sources.


How on EARTH Do I Survive This?

Incredibly, many of us do. See the resources below for more advice, but here are some tidbits that the contributors named above provided:

  • Have an emergency fund. Money comes in sporadically and expenses crop up unexpectedly; saving for a rainy (or injurious) day is worth it. Relatedly,
  • Live well within your means. Cook at home, make things count twice (like do a cooking date with your partner instead of going out), and keep an eye on sporadic and unreasonable expenses like bar tabs. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Speaking of which,
  • Graduate school is an investment of time. Don’t squander it, even on being frugal. If you are paying a thousand dollars to attend a conference, don’t save $50 by staying in a hotel across town that will prevent you from being able to attend the conference reasonably. Don’t go crazy on coupon clipping if doing so eats up more time than it is worth. Go graduate and get a job. This applies to the location of your home as well. A 2-hour commute each day is likely not worth the $100/month you save on rent—let alone the price of operating your vehicle.
  • Anticipate rises and falls in income. You may get your first paycheck one or more months after you start your assistantship, and you may get no money at all over the summer. Plan!
  • Check on the funding situation at any program to which you intend to apply. If there isn’t a realistic firing solution for attendance, don’t bother applying. There are creative ways to fund a graduate education, so exhaust all of these before you give up your dreams, but don’t throw money down the drain if you can’t afford to attend a given program.
  • You’re going to be in this with other folks, so work together with them. Share and ask others to share cost-saving tips specific to your graduate environment.


Despair Not

Graduate school is worth it (we’ll have better data on this soon, but some of the below resources will help you see why I say so). That said, it is expensive, and having enough money at each of a variety of stages will be crucial to your financial success while studying. There are, of course, other resources on which you may be able to call—family support, savings, loans, summer income, and so on—but regardless, be attentive to when you’ll need to spend money on what—including the things that you can’t predict—and you’ll be in good shape.7


Additional Readings/Resources


1 And, by what I assume is the commutative property of Googling, no one else possibly could either #arrogance

2 Thanks to Rin Mouton for her help in shaping this topic and for help developing the “Oh and also” list.

3  For instance, all of my respondents are or were PhD students – YMMV as a Master’s student. I suspect that you get the picture, though.

4  I personally have an axe to grind here, but I’m reporting what others said as opposed to what I think should be the case.

5  Because the wrappings of your meat shell are super important to your development as an I-O Psychologist.

6  Dress to impress stave off the judgment of others! Sorry, I’d stop with all of the clothing complaints but, you know, I don’t want to.

7  P.S. Don’t wreck your credit. Wrecking your credit puts you in bad shape. Don’t do that. Plan!

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