I'm considering applying to several grad schools in the US for a PhD in math as an international applicant and the combined cost of those applications, gre/toefl official score costs, official transcript postage costs etc. are going to be significant. I'm from a developing country and most of the fee waiver guidelines that I've read about apply to US citizens only. I have the following questions regarding the application fee waiver:

  1. How common is it for such a waiver to be approved for non US citizens? I suppose citizens are considered prime candidates for such support since their taxes are funding the public universities.

  2. Are there any cons to requesting such a waiver? Is this information going to be shared with the admissions committee and would this hurt my chances of admission since they might think I'm more likely to not accept or drop out later due to financial issues? Almost all of them have TA positions for PhD students and I'd be taking a loan to cover the rest so this is not actually an issue, but it might make them de-prioritize my application.

  3. Are there any pros to it? Are university fellowships and scholarships granted solely based on merit or need as well, to a lesser extent?

  4. One large state university I requested a waiver from suggested that I complete my application but not officially submit it. They said they'll review it as is and if an admission offer is made, the department will pay the fee. Is this standard procedure for offering a fee waiver? I suppose their application system won't allow submission without payment, still I fear my application might get rejected if I don't submit it by the deadline. Would an email from their admissions office asking me to do so be enough as a justification, in the unlikely scenario that my application gets rejected due to not being officially submitted?

Related: Would using an application fee waiver affect my admission result in a negative way?

1 Answer 1


Here are a couple thoughts about your numbered questions:

  1. The requirement that an applicant be a US citizen or permanent resident indicates that the fee waiver is funded by a grant (either a government grant or a university-level grant from the administration). Such grants will have firm rules about whom the funding can support. If a department is going to offer a fee waiver without using grant money, the fee waiver would probably come out of the department's own funds. This is why it is uncommon but not necessarily impossible for a non-US citizen to receive a fee waiver.

  2. There should be no cons to requesting a fee waiver. Besides the small number of faculty involved in administering the fee waivers, no other faculty on the graduate admissions committee are supposed to even know who has received a fee waiver. One goal of these fee waivers is to increase socio-economic diversity in graduate programs by removing socio-economic barriers to applying for admission. These fee waivers don't address the socio-economic barriers to preparing for admission to graduate school (or retention once admitted to graduate school), but solving those problems will require more ideas and work than a fee waiver program.

  3. I am not aware of any needs-based scholarships for math PhD programs. Any reasonable program will offer a stipend and tuition waiver in exchange for some teaching responsibilities. Depending on the location, this funding may be sufficient to cover your living expenses, especially if you live frugally. Some programs will also award an additional scholarship or fellowship (in the form of extra funding or reduced teaching), generally on the basis of merit or fostering diversity.

  4. It sounds like this is the department's way of offering fee waivers out of their own funds without wasting money -- they can directly pay for application fees for students they want to accept, but they don't have to spend any money paying for an application that they know they won't accept. Each university will have their own policies about this. My advice is to email the math department Director of Graduate Studies to ask about their department's policy.

Context: I proposed one of these fee waiver programs while I was a PhD student. I had not seen any other math departments offering such a fee waiver, so I wrote out a plan, submitted it to the Director of Graduate Studies, and helped finalize the fee waiver procedures. Since I was a grad student, I was not allowed to participate in the actual administration of these fee waivers, so there are probably details that I am missing.

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