Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) recently passed a bill that will help fund graduate school admission tests for students. The Graduate School Admission Test (GSAT) Grant Program, which will pilot in the spring semester, will allow juniors and seniors to apply for grants to help defray the costs of graduate school exams such as the Graduate Records Examinations (GRE), the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), and the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
A total of $5000 will be available through the program each year, which will be distributed in 25 grants of $100 per semester. However, as the bill was only passed at the end of the second semester, a full 50 grants will be available in the spring during the 2017-2018 academic school year. Starting with the 2018-2019 school year, the number of grants will return to normal at 25 per semester.
The bill, which was introduced by Student Organizations Committee (SOC) member Shelby Witherby ’18 and Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) member Andy Han ’19, was finalized by the AAC. Witherby said the idea for the project stemmed from her own experiences of applying to graduate schools.
“The idea for the bill originated when I took the GRE, and I realized how crazy expensive it was going to be,” Witherby said. “I was thinking about the other students around campus who are also taking the GRE and who are also probably in need of some support.”
Witherby, a first generation college student, noticed a parallel in the graduate school application process and the college application process.
“My high school had a program where if you were on free or reduced lunch, you could take the ACT for free and you got reduced application fees for college,” she continued. “I was just surprised that Macalester, being so progressive, wouldn’t have those same support structures in place for grad school considering the percentage of students who go on to grad school.”
Witherby brought up her concerns at the MCSG retreat, and was able to gain Han’s support.
“I thought it was a great idea, and I thought it was an idea that would be of interest to a lot of people,” Han said. “I set up meetings with the stakeholders that would be interested in this type of project.”
One such stakeholder was Director of Academic Programs and Advising Ann Minnick, who serves as staff advisor to the AAC.
“Andy Han, who is a member of AAC, came to see me to talk about the bill and just see what I thought, or if there were any issues that I anticipated,” Minnick said. “We know that students have varying financial abilities and needs, so I thought it was a great initiative.”
According to Han and Witherby, the process of creating and passing the bill was relatively smooth as feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
The only pushback, Han said, might be due to the program’s funding source: the student activities fee.
“The activity fee is almost like a tax students pay, and we [use] that money to providing events, funding orgs,” Han said, “and it goes to Winter Ball, Springfest and a lot of different events.”
“Now we’re using it to fund grad school tests, and some might feel like that’s not an appropriate use of the activity fee,” he continued. “I respect their views, but I feel like it’s still a worthy endeavor. It still falls in line with what the activity fee does, which is to provide services to students.”
Both Han and Witherby hope to see the program grow. “One idea I had, down the road, is every department contributing $100,” Han said. “Since grad school is something that Macalester prides itself in, everyone should contribute.”
The program is one of several resources available to aid students in the graduate school application process. Others include letters from the financial aid office to waive application fees, and one-on-one tutoring at the MAX center. “We have a list of resources that I don’t think a lot of people know about on campus, not just the grant program but other ways [of] helping students,” Han said.
GSAT program applications will open in the spring and include a Google form and a one page waiver for the financial aid office.
by Isabella Molano