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How to Respond When Schools Ask which other programs you are applying to?


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I asked my friends who were also applying and they all said they were honest. So I was too. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do or why they ask that. But I was more scared of being caught lying in case they checked somehow. 

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You should absolutely list all the programs. Graduate programs want to see that you are a high level applicant that is considering multiple programs. Additionally, it puts further pressure on the program to recruit you, the best and the brightest, against other competing programs. 

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I'm not entirely sure if there's a definitive answer to this question myself, although the most common answer you'll see is honesty out of fear of being caught lying or seeming scared and uncertain. Some people think marking down several other peer schools makes it seem like you're less likely to attend said school which would hurt one's chances. For others they feel better about checking down their programs if it isn't a gigantic number which makes it seem like they've really thought out their plan whereas someone that applied to 20 programs might feel queasy about checking down all the schools since it would look like said applicant has no idea what they want out of the degree. And for some the thought process behind it is a race thing where they might feel less comfortable answering the question if they're white/asian but I don't want to derail this thread with an affirmative action debate so I'll just leave it at that. In theory there wouldn't be a real way for a school to know if you're being truthful or not, but if you plan on negotiating using offers from other schools then not being honest could hurt (if they remember/go back to which schools you did or didn't select). Basically what I'm trying to say is that there isn't really a definitive answer to this question. I think it's just a matter of how comfortable you are disclosing certain information and how you think certain characteristics of you and your application ultimately influences that information (the colleges that you do or do not select).

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To me, this should be a no-brainer: The application form asks a question, so you either lie (and undermine your integrity) or you answer truthfully. Only one obvious choice here. 

As to why schools ask, there are probably various reasons. Mostly, though, I guess they want to see whether you have some sort of coherence in your applications or you're just applying to 25 different schools to up your chances. 

Most programs (particularly the competitive ones) have low acceptance rates. The schools obviously know that, so they KNOW you will to be applying to multiple schools. Virtually everyone on this forum has put in 5-10 applications - just read the footers on posts. If you apply to a school with 15% acceptance rates and say that's your only choice, an admissions officer will likely question whether you're being truthful. 

Note that I've never worked in an admissions office, so this is just my interpretation!

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Finally made an account! In my opinion, the question is more to help the schools improve their recruiting strategy than to evaluate applicants. Knowing where else applicants are applying can help the school gauge who their "competitors" are, assess their standing, and adjust any recruiting methods to better stand out among all the schools. It seems unlikely that schools would punish applicants for casting a wide pool, and I think it's also a stretch for them to draw inference on who is the applicant's top choice/second etc. If you are a good candidate, each school would want to admit you! That is to say - don't stress too much about answering honestly vs. not. Do whichever makes you more comfortable. The impact on admissions might be minimal. 

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I just left it blank if it was an optional question, answered truthfully if it was required or asked directly in an interview.

If I could do it again, I would probably answer even if it was optional but at the time I thought it was more likely to hurt me with safety schools than drive a bidding war with my top choices.

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