There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch: Costs You Have To Bear Even Before Getting A Scholarship

College Application Illustration. Photo from Shutterstock.

Aspiring graduate students, particularly for schools in the US, need to know that having scholarships to fund you graduate study does not mean it is free on all sides. Hans, our columnist, will give his firsthand experience how a carefully-planned graduate studies’ application must entail certain financial arrangements.

From the beginning, I know that for me pursuing the graduate studies without scholarship would be just a dream, especially in the US, due to its hefty cost. However, little did I know that there is a huge cost one needs to bear upfront, even before securing a scholarship and got admitted to the desired program: the hundreds of dollars of standardized tests, the preparation class, possibility of retaking those tests, and application fees. They amount to thousands of dollars and with the weakening Rupiah, and as someone who works in public sector with no side job, I was in the brink of bankruptcy trying to pay the bills.

Do you think that the sought-after LPDP scholarship is completely free? I wish.

The required medical check-up unfortunately is not cheap, at least for me. Not to mention if you are based somewhere outside the test locations, the cost incurred to get there is upon you. With several selection processes, it adds up. There is no such thing as a free lunch. However, you are able to manage the expenses by strategizing your time. I believe taking the time at least two years prior to your intended admission to start is sufficient. Pursuing both the scholarships and schools all at once will prove detrimental not only to your own wellbeing, but also to your wallet’s.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Photo by Christopher Harting for MIT News.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose graduate schools’ application fee ranges from US$ 75 to US$ 250. Photo by Christopher Harting for MIT News.

Why two years? Should you aim for scholarships, certain programs such as LPDP allow the awardee to search for schools until the next two academic years. For instance, you are awarded a scholarship in 2017. It is possible to aim for a graduate school starting at 2019-2020 academic year. On top of that, if you consider Fulbright, then thinking 24 months before your intended admission will be beneficial. The application is closed on March, the year before your intended admission. For most programs starting in Fall, it is 18 months prior. That is the deadline, not the opening of application. So, you have a long way to go, even before most people think about it.

Remember, admission process starts rolling in once the freshmen are already taking their first steps at school. It means you need to finalize the necessary requirements one full-year before your intended admission. Many people are just realizing their intention to pursue graduate studies a few weeks before the deadline and rushing for bosses and professors for recommendation letters, drafting essays, taking standardized tests, and other requirements all at once. By allowing more time to prepare, you will be able to focus on one task at a time, consequently producing better results than trying to put all things in your plate at the same time. Also keep in mind that recommenders you are looking for most likely get their schedule filled up weeks in advance. You need to be able to have at least a month before the deadline to convey the circumstances and ask your potential recommenders for their blessing.

Several examples of GMAT preparation books that can cost up to US$100 each. Prepare your wallet! (Photo from Google Image)
Several examples of GMAT preparation books that can cost up to US$100 each. Prepare your wallet! (Photo from Google Image)

Several schools offer fee-waiver for candidates attending info sessions or events hosted by them. This is a tremendous opportunity to save up. Take some time to research about the possibility of getting that application fee waived early on. Top schools generally do not offer any waiver through this scheme, but who knows what your research will uncover. Unless you have a treasure chest available, applying for as many schools as possible in order to increase your odds will going to turn out the opposite way. Remember to always get yourself focused. Applying to more than five schools in the same round will only drain your bank account, and your brain to draft even more essays. Some programs even asked for additional resources such as video statement. You may want to consider applying to different schools in different rounds. Never forget in the event of an interview, schools might ask for an interview in a different country. Do the math and add it up.

Application form. Photo from Conquer.
Application form. Photo from Conquer.

In terms of standardized tests, graduate schools in the US mostly require GRE or GMAT and they are valid for five years. Take all preparation you need within those early days and apply for the test no later than 18 months before your intended admission. The timing allows for a possibility of retake should you are (and most do) feel dissatisfied within the first try. If you are required to take IELTS or TOEFL do it after you have satisfied with your GMAT or GRE. You get to focus on that. Financially speaking, preparation classes for GMAT and GRE will set you back several million Rupiahs, and mostly are even more expensive than the test itself. Nevertheless, it is up to you to decide whether it is a sunk cost or an investment. Also bear in mind that it costs a lot, especially in times of declining currency. Consequently, for people who are taking GMAT several times the cost for that specific test alone might already exceed ten million Rupiahs.

In conclusion, before you even begin your journey to go through graduate school, take some time to reflect the cost and benefit. As you can see, taking a scholarship does not mean it is entirely free. You still need some money to take tests, trips, and other arrangements before applying for both scholarships and schools. I wish you good luck and start preparing early on. The earlier the better.

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Hanryano works at Indonesia Financial Services Authority covering Non-Bank Financial Institutions sector. He used to work in an e-commerce company where he was familiar with warehouse management system and the growing start-up community in Indonesia. Hanryano earned his bachelor degree from Institut Teknologi Bandung majoring in Business Management with specialization in Finance and Operations. During college, he was an exchange student at ESC Rennes, France and secured funding from the Ministry of Education. His time outside work is filled with learning new subjects, traveling, and volunteering.


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