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Did I Set Myself Up for Failure?

vestigialtraits

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When I applied for undergrad, I only applied to two or three schools. I didn't think there was anything wrong with that, I had to go in state, to a public school, and I didn't want to go to a huge (more than 10,000) school so that left very few options. I picked one, and although I came close to transferring, I graduated two and a half years later, relatively happy with my decision. 

Fast forward to deciding where to apply for grad school. About a year before I was set to graduate with my BA, I'd decided what I wanted to go to grad school for (student affairs) and started looking for programs. At first, I had two key factors in mind - I wanted a school in an urban environment, with an ultimate frisbee club team (bonus points if the city had a professional ultimate team).  This narrowed it down to one or two schools so I started intensely researching them. Reading everything I could about the programs online, searching for youtube videos, seeing how their alumni were now doing professionally, reading into the faculty of the school, and trying to learn about the social climate of the university and the city it was in. This lead to me falling in love with a school, so that's where I applied. That's right, I only applied to one school. 

I figured this was the place I wanted to be, so why apply to spend years of my life at a program my heart wasn't set on. After being on gradcafe for a few weeks and interacting with a few students interested in student affairs, I realized this was not the norm at all. I saw people applying to 4, 5, up to 14 or so schools. This shocked me. I panicked. Starting looking into these programs the other students were applying to, considering scrambling to get a few more applications in before deadlines. But while I was doing this search, I didn't find another program that had me grinning at my computer screen as I envisioned myself there. I didn't find myself being annoyed that there wasn't more information about the program online. I didn't find myself craving to go to any other school. 

So despite breaking the status quo and putting all my eggs in one basket, I'm (mostly) confident in my decision. I only applied to one school and that's okay. Some people may think this is foolish and maybe I'll agree if I get rejected from what I think is the school for me. But that's a bridge I'll cross if I get there. 

Anyone has experience with or feelings about applying to just one school? I'd love to talk to you about it. 




7 Comments


I only applied to one school, because there is no other school I want to (or can) attend. Relocating my family is not an option and I KNOW I love the school I applied to from working, studying and conducting research there. 

Everyone's situation is different. Best of luck to you!

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I also applied to one school (so far). I am also not willing to relocate. The program is great and I didn't want to go through the process of applying to multiple schools. I might apply to a safe school but I share the same sentiments as you. Good luck to both of you! 

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There's no reason that you HAVE to apply to a bunch of school JUST SO you get in.

Apply to schools that make sense to you and you truly want to attend (I doesn't make sense to me to spend the money and effort at a school you don't really enjoy and find as a good match), and if it doesn't work out, you apply again next year to schools that fit your situation then.

Good luck to you guys, whatever works out by definition works out ;)

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I don't think you've set yourself up to fail.  While we aren't in the same field I understand your situation.  Undergrad I wasn't a great student and moved around a lot.  It took a long time for me to finish my BS (but once I got moving I really got moving).  I started looking at MBA programs that would fit my needs as I wanted additional upward trajectory (despite not being required to having one).  I went sniffing for programs and looked at many, many options.  I attended open houses, information sessions, etc.  Some programs were interesting, some were an outright "no", but when I walked into the program I ultimately applied to that was the one.  I did end up discovering a dual program (MBA/MADIR) so that was a bonus and would be the program I would enroll in.  I only applied to this program.  I did, however, do some additional research.  I looked into every entrance metric I could get my hands on (were there minimum cutoffs for scores, GPA's, etc.).  After being sure I was meeting their minimum hurdles and knowing that graduate enrollment is down I knew I was in very good shape going in (despite barely meeting the minimum GMAT).  Ultimately I was accepted.  The program had more bumps and bruises than I anticipated, but I still think it was the right move.  I feel like had I applied to other programs I would've been more confused than ever.  If I do get into a Doctorate program I have clear picture of what program I'm most interested in and how my selections rate (which would not have been the case for a MBA/MA).  Good luck!

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My original list contained 11 programs, down from an initial 20 or so.  I am grossly simplifying my story here;  in the end I only applied three.  Out of those, and above the HYPSMs, only two were where I really wanted to go--one of which was/is an MS program that is a part of California's CSU system.  Hardly prestigious by any stretch yet the program itself is so effin' awesome that it was my #1.  

Honestly, I believe that those who apply to many programs either have little understanding of why they want to go to graduate school to begin with or they are desperate to get in, anywhere, because of competition--which is understandable.  Thankfully I am interested in an area that does not have applicants busting down the doors to gain entry.  Yet, if I were interested in something such as immunology, cancer research, or neuriobio than I probably would have applied to 14+ programs, too.       

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I'd say it depends on the type of program your attending, how competitive is the program you applied to, your background experience, and many other factors. HESA programs tend to be professional training orientated, and draw it's grad students from that surrounding area. Also, for HESA MA programs, the demographic can tend to be younger, so if you have good experiences, that can help you stand out. I wouldn't say your predicament is a bad one, but to be honest, it would be to your benefit to also have a Plan B for next year. By no means does this mean that your dream school is out of the question; if it is your dream by all means, keep dreaming!  If for whatever reason this year's admissions doesn't work out in your favor, no problem don't sweat, just re-evaluate your strategy and apply again for next year. Have you met in person one or more faculty in the program you are most excited to work with (either as some sort of Assistantship position, or have those folks as your faculty thesis advisors)? Have you dug into the literature/research in your interest area, so you can start to reference authors that might come up in classes your interested in? For student's I work with who ask about going to grad school, and want grad school as a main reason to move to a certain location, I say grad school should not be your reason to move somewhere. The fact that you want to live in a particular location should be your reason for moving somewhere. Although I know that's a hard pill to swallow, I too moved to my current city for grad school, but really I wanted to live there more than anything. Now I'm a professional academic advisor with 2 grad degrees, one in HESA, and I still think this is the advice I wish I had gotten 15 years ago. I hope that helps. It sounds like all your motivations are in the right place, so keep dreaming, and I'm sure it will all work out :)

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2 hours ago, KVG said:

I'd say it depends on the type of program your attending, how competitive is the program you applied to, your background experience, and many other factors. HESA programs tend to be professional training orientated, and draw it's grad students from that surrounding area. Also, for HESA MA programs, the demographic can tend to be younger, so if you have good experiences, that can help you stand out. I wouldn't say your predicament is a bad one, but to be honest, it would be to your benefit to also have a Plan B for next year. By no means does this mean that your dream school is out of the question; if it is your dream by all means, keep dreaming!  If for whatever reason this year's admissions doesn't work out in your favor, no problem don't sweat, just re-evaluate your strategy and apply again for next year. Have you met in person one or more faculty in the program you are most excited to work with (either as some sort of Assistantship position, or have those folks as your faculty thesis advisors)? Have you dug into the literature/research in your interest area, so you can start to reference authors that might come up in classes your interested in? For student's I work with who ask about going to grad school, and want grad school as a main reason to move to a certain location, I say grad school should not be your reason to move somewhere. The fact that you want to live in a particular location should be your reason for moving somewhere. Although I know that's a hard pill to swallow, I too moved to my current city for grad school, but really I wanted to live there more than anything. Now I'm a professional academic advisor with 2 grad degrees, one in HESA, and I still think this is the advice I wish I had gotten 15 years ago. I hope that helps. It sounds like all your motivations are in the right place, so keep dreaming, and I'm sure it will all work out :)

I really appreciate your thoughtful response. I actually heard back from my program last week and was accepted! I'm planning on writing a blog post about that, and a few of the things you mentioned in your response, soon. 

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