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SOS! Already feeling discouraged. Advice for next application cycle?


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Hi all.

What a stressful time of year!

I have high scores, a near-perfect GPA, and glowing letters of rec, several posters, and an in-progress paper, so a few months ago I thought I had a pretty good shot. After spending more time on this website, I think I might have been very mistaken. I don't have a psychology degree. My degree is in Communication Sciences & Disorders (aka speech-language pathology), and I have only worked with PIs and faculty within that world. In undergrad, I volunteered in an autism lab, run by an SLP with a large background in neuroscience. I presented my own poster at a regional conference. After graduating, I spent a few months working as a nurses' aid in a hospital, where I saw many patients with mental illness. Then, I started as a research assistant in a motor speech lab. My PI is big in the world of speech and is the director of our small school's research program. I have 3 posters (one first author, and more psych-related) and one in progress pub (a collab with people in Brazil) that I am helping write/revise. In grad school, I'd like to study anxiety and depression or aging/dementia. I'm worried I may not even get any interviews because my previous work doesn't line up with this subject matter, since the bulk of my research experience has been in people with ASD, ALS, and face transplant patients. I do have experience with TMS and neuromodulation, but we don't do neuroimaging or psych testing.

I really think what's putting me behind is either my lack of experience in the psych world or my lack of publications. So my question is, what should I spend the next year doing? Do I leave my lab (been here for a year) to find an RA job in a lab that actually researches what I'm interested in? Do I keep this job and focus on doing even more independent work, helping doc students write and publish papers, and running more participants (we're starting a project on kids with autism soon). Do I find an RA job at one of the schools I want to attend and move across the country? I absolutely don't want to live where I am now, but it's a city with a ton of research opportunities - volunteer and paid.

What are your thoughts on how I could make myself more competitive?

Secondarily... what do you guys think my chances are this cycle? I know it's useless to ask at this point, but I'd love the insight because I don't have any clinical psych people around to ask!

My stats:
GPA: 3.94 (at an arts school)

GRE: 166V, 158Q, 5.0W

Psych GRE: 770

 

 

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So, not to freak you out, but you applied to very competitive schools. Even though you have great stats and good experience, the number of applicants all of these Universities receive significantly reduces your chances statistically. 

Most of the feedback I've been given is that while your research experience doesn't necessarily need to line up with your desired directions, it's important to clearly link the skills you've gathered so far with what you hope to do in grad school. Of course it would help to get psych experience, but the amount of time it would take to find another RA job and situate yourself in the new lab so you were in a position to publish might not be worth it. It still sounds like a valuable lab to be in. 

I would probably try to find some less competitive schools to apply to next round, if you end up having to apply again. Also, try to nail down your research interests. anxiety and depression, or aging and dementia, are both super broad. Not sure if you stated them broadly for the purpose of this post, but it's important to find a niche that interests you, not just a general area. 

I hope this is helpful. Also, remember we are a bunch of unqualified applicants, so this can be like the blind leading the blind. I would suggest finding a psych mentor who can help you navigate the process. 

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I didn't apply to clinical programs so take my advice with a grain of salt.. but honestly I still think that you have a pretty good chance and I wouldn't freak yourself out just yet. There is also a possibility you may have gotten waitlisted at some programs. I wouldn't start freaking out until February tbh. Also, as far as I know, it's not a requirement to have a psychology degree to be accepted into a psychology doctoral program. 

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I think it's important to show a clear path from what you've done to where you want to go. Agreed with above that that doesn't  mean your research has to be what you want to do---but you have to show why you want to do what you do, what lead you there, what experience you have that sets you apart. Also make sure you have a good research match with the schools you apply to and the POI you want to work with. 

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I agree that it’s still early in the cycle.

If things don’t work out this year, I would focus on making sure you apply to labs that are a good fit for your interests and past experience. You don’t necessarily need experience in your POIs’ area, it does make you a more convincing applicant if you can demonstrate why you chose that particular lab. Did you try tying your current/past research into your future interests? For example, you could propose research on speech/language deficit in dementia, or language in depression (just examples, I don’t know these fields). 

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14 hours ago, justacigar said:

So, not to freak you out, but you applied to very competitive schools. Even though you have great stats and good experience, the number of applicants all of these Universities receive significantly reduces your chances statistically. 

Most of the feedback I've been given is that while your research experience doesn't necessarily need to line up with your desired directions, it's important to clearly link the skills you've gathered so far with what you hope to do in grad school. Of course it would help to get psych experience, but the amount of time it would take to find another RA job and situate yourself in the new lab so you were in a position to publish might not be worth it. It still sounds like a valuable lab to be in. 

I would probably try to find some less competitive schools to apply to next round, if you end up having to apply again. Also, try to nail down your research interests. anxiety and depression, or aging and dementia, are both super broad. Not sure if you stated them broadly for the purpose of this post, but it's important to find a niche that interests you, not just a general area. 

I hope this is helpful. Also, remember we are a bunch of unqualified applicants, so this can be like the blind leading the blind. I would suggest finding a psych mentor who can help you navigate the process. 

Ugh, I know. I applied to places that my partner and I would want to live... and maybe our standards were a bit too high in that respect. At this point I'm a little embarrassed of the hubris/naivete of my school selection process, lol. It's so hard though! Because even in the lower-ranked programs, there'll be 150 applicants for 3 spots. So I thought, what the heck, might as well apply to these big programs.

Making a convincing research pitch was definitely the hardest part of my applications. I was being intentionally broad for the post, but I do wonder if was also too broad in my SOPs. This is a little example from one of them:

Because most of my research experience lies in the realm of CSD, I delineated my research interests by reading a range of publications and books, including Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole by neurologist Allan Ropper, Tales from Both Sides of the Brain by cognitive scientist Michael Gazzaniga, and The Inflamed Mind by psychiatrist Edward Bullmore. Broadly, I wish to study the neurological underpinnings of psychological phenomena and the mind-body connection. I am particularly interested in how life experiences modulate biological reactions to stress and put people at risk for developing mood and anxiety disorders. These disorders are compelling because of their ubiquity; they have impacted not only my own life, but the lives of almost everyone I know. My biggest priority is research application: I aim to conduct research that benefits large populations most in need of innovative treatments. Using neuropsychological methods to study mood and anxiety disorders has great sociological impact, ultimately improving scientific knowledge and guiding treatment development.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What this may be lacking is the justification of why I'm interested in that problem.. or maybe I need to point to a deficit in the literature?

13 hours ago, andhowdoesthatmakeyoufeel said:

I think it's important to show a clear path from what you've done to where you want to go. Agreed with above that that doesn't  mean your research has to be what you want to do---but you have to show why you want to do what you do, what lead you there, what experience you have that sets you apart. Also make sure you have a good research match with the schools you apply to and the POI you want to work with. 

'Research match' has been a difficult thing for me to pin down! Don't know if it's because it's a hard thing to define or because I don't have a psych mentor to guide me.

Thanks for the helpful and encouraging responses, everyone!

 

Edited by speechtopsych
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Definitely don't count yourself out yet- UT Austin doesn't send out invites until Feb 1 according to CUDCP and University of Denver is 1/20. I didn't see the others listed, so unsure of their dates... but I would just keep checking results or reach out to the program and ask for a timeline. It's a super competitive process and there are so many wild cards. It's easy to get discouraged, but you still have a ways to go before you should assume the worst. Which, speaking from experience, isn't actually the worst. Let's say you don't get in anywhere, after the season is over, reach out to your top programs and ask for feedback on your application. Some won't respond, some will. Then go with that. I do think working in a relevant lab is key, especially if you can get into one affiliated with a program you're interested in, or that is highly regarded in your target field. You will meet people, make a name for yourself, and for connections. So many people have to go through several cycles- it's an unfortunate truth. BUT! Really don't count yourself out just yet!!! Best of luck! 

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10 minutes ago, emdreaming said:

Definitely don't count yourself out yet- UT Austin doesn't send out invites until Feb 1 according to CUDCP and University of Denver is 1/20. I didn't see the others listed, so unsure of their dates... but I would just keep checking results or reach out to the program and ask for a timeline. It's a super competitive process and there are so many wild cards. It's easy to get discouraged, but you still have a ways to go before you should assume the worst. Which, speaking from experience, isn't actually the worst. Let's say you don't get in anywhere, after the season is over, reach out to your top programs and ask for feedback on your application. Some won't respond, some will. Then go with that. I do think working in a relevant lab is key, especially if you can get into one affiliated with a program you're interested in, or that is highly regarded in your target field. You will meet people, make a name for yourself, and for connections. So many people have to go through several cycles- it's an unfortunate truth. BUT! Really don't count yourself out just yet!!! Best of luck! 

Do you think doing volunteer hours at a relevant lab would be enough? (So I can keep and continue to progress in my current position)

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45 minutes ago, speechtopsych said:

Do you think doing volunteer hours at a relevant lab would be enough? (So I can keep and continue to progress in my current position)

I think if you like your current position, it could be. But I would really suggest trying to get feedback from any rejections as you may be surprised at the level of detail and usefulness. BU has an incredible anxiety lab- so that may be a great place to look. I know less about Boston's resources on aging/dementia- but I do know between BU and Children's, you should be able to get a great position with their research teams based on your experience and track record. 

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7 hours ago, speechtopsych said:

Broadly, I wish to study the neurological underpinnings of psychological phenomena and the mind-body connection. I am particularly interested in how life experiences modulate biological reactions to stress and put people at risk for developing mood and anxiety disorders. These disorders are compelling because of their ubiquity; they have impacted not only my own life, but the lives of almost everyone I know.

I'm non-clinical, but still a Psych major, and I would say yes, narrow this down if you find you have to resubmit next year.  Is there a particular mood/anxiety disorder you want to study?  A specific population, ie minority children? the elderly? college students? And then narrow down to the labs/clinical programs that emphasize those disorders and populations.

Also, you could explain what you mean by, "impacted not only my own life...." - if it makes for a compelling addition to your personal story. However, we are warned a million times to not say things like, "I want to study depression because I'm a manic myself".  Whatever your personal impact has been, find a way to spin it so it doesn't come across as a potential red flag.  

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4 minutes ago, Randi S said:

I'm non-clinical, but still a Psych major, and I would say yes, narrow this down if you find you have to resubmit next year.  Is there a particular mood/anxiety disorder you want to study?  A specific population, ie minority children? the elderly? college students? And then narrow down to the labs/clinical programs that emphasize those disorders and populations.

Also, you could explain what you mean by, "impacted not only my own life...." - if it makes for a compelling addition to your personal story. However, we are warned a million times to not say things like, "I want to study depression because I'm a manic myself".  Whatever your personal impact has been, find a way to spin it so it doesn't come across as a potential red flag.  

Thanks! Yeah, I wish I had a more specific population, but it's really hard to determine that much specificity without having more experience in the field. I think I'll probably try and move to a lab that studies one of the things I'm interested in.

Secondly, I had a close friend commit suicide about a year ago. He was brilliantly smart, but incredibly depressed, and hid it. He was nicest guy ever, only brought joy to everyone around him. Also, it runs in my family. Grandfather attempted suicide before I was born and is now super cognitively impaired. My parents have struggled with their mental health, and now it seems like my little brother is, too. But HOW am I supposed to deliver this sob story in my personal statement? I tried at one point, but it got too "poor me." Also, it feels a little cliche' to be like, my dead friend inspired me to try and solve the depression problem! You know? Maybe it's just me.

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17 minutes ago, speechtopsych said:

Thanks! Yeah, I wish I had a more specific population, but it's really hard to determine that much specificity without having more experience in the field. I think I'll probably try and move to a lab that studies one of the things I'm interested in.

Secondly, I had a close friend commit suicide about a year ago. He was brilliantly smart, but incredibly depressed, and hid it. He was nicest guy ever, only brought joy to everyone around him. Also, it runs in my family. Grandfather attempted suicide before I was born and is now super cognitively impaired. My parents have struggled with their mental health, and now it seems like my little brother is, too. But HOW am I supposed to deliver this sob story in my personal statement? I tried at one point, but it got too "poor me." Also, it feels a little cliche' to be like, my dead friend inspired me to try and solve the depression problem! You know? Maybe it's just me.

It IS a hard story to write without it feeling like a pity party.  I was told by a mentor that if you want to include potentially super personal things like that, it's vital to offer them as a challenge you overcame, and how it made you a strong candidate - but not to dwell on the details at all.  Maybe something along the lines of "I've watched others struggle with mood disorders, and it inspires me to join the search for new and better ways to help others overcome/learn to live with their *insert specific disorder here*"... you can always talk about specific instances like the friend in an interview without throwing up flags in your initial app. 

Personal statements are of the devil, as far as I'm concerned :) it took me weeks and a million drafts for the five I sent out.  I would have gone crazy if I needed to write ten or more.

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1 hour ago, speechtopsych said:

Thanks! Yeah, I wish I had a more specific population, but it's really hard to determine that much specificity without having more experience in the field. I think I'll probably try and move to a lab that studies one of the things I'm interested in.

Secondly, I had a close friend commit suicide about a year ago. He was brilliantly smart, but incredibly depressed, and hid it. He was nicest guy ever, only brought joy to everyone around him. Also, it runs in my family. Grandfather attempted suicide before I was born and is now super cognitively impaired. My parents have struggled with their mental health, and now it seems like my little brother is, too. But HOW am I supposed to deliver this sob story in my personal statement? I tried at one point, but it got too "poor me." Also, it feels a little cliche' to be like, my dead friend inspired me to try and solve the depression problem! You know? Maybe it's just me.

Honestly, divulging this in an SOP can be a kiss of death. I have heard many faculty (in various schools) state that they would not take students who were interested in such topics for personal reasons. The idea is that it can impact your objective stance. If you haven't already, read "Mitch's Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology." If you Google it, it comes up right away. 

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18 minutes ago, PsyDuck90 said:

Honestly, divulging this in an SOP can be a kiss of death. I have heard many faculty (in various schools) state that they would not take students who were interested in such topics for personal reasons. The idea is that it can impact your objective stance. If you haven't already, read "Mitch's Uncensored Advice for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology." If you Google it, it comes up right away. 

 

24 minutes ago, Psychtime said:

I would stay away from your familial and friend connection to suicide. Those self disclosures show a lack of boundaries that is a red flag to many adcoms. It’s one of the kisses of death to a sop. 

I didn’t mention any of this in my SOP. We were mostly just tossing ideas around. It’s not my motivation to pursue this career, anyway. The dismal state of mental health in the modern world is... :( and, you know, I just wanna know how brains work idk 

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On 1/14/2020 at 8:15 PM, speechtopsych said:

Hi all.

What a stressful time of year!

I have high scores, a near-perfect GPA, and glowing letters of rec, several posters, and an in-progress paper, so a few months ago I thought I had a pretty good shot. After spending more time on this website, I think I might have been very mistaken. I don't have a psychology degree. My degree is in Communication Sciences & Disorders (aka speech-language pathology), and I have only worked with PIs and faculty within that world. In undergrad, I volunteered in an autism lab, run by an SLP with a large background in neuroscience. I presented my own poster at a regional conference. After graduating, I spent a few months working as a nurses' aid in a hospital, where I saw many patients with mental illness. Then, I started as a research assistant in a motor speech lab. My PI is big in the world of speech and is the director of our small school's research program. I have 3 posters (one first author, and more psych-related) and one in progress pub (a collab with people in Brazil) that I am helping write/revise. In grad school, I'd like to study anxiety and depression or aging/dementia. I'm worried I may not even get any interviews because my previous work doesn't line up with this subject matter, since the bulk of my research experience has been in people with ASD, ALS, and face transplant patients. I do have experience with TMS and neuromodulation, but we don't do neuroimaging or psych testing.

I really think what's putting me behind is either my lack of experience in the psych world or my lack of publications. So my question is, what should I spend the next year doing? Do I leave my lab (been here for a year) to find an RA job in a lab that actually researches what I'm interested in? Do I keep this job and focus on doing even more independent work, helping doc students write and publish papers, and running more participants (we're starting a project on kids with autism soon). Do I find an RA job at one of the schools I want to attend and move across the country? I absolutely don't want to live where I am now, but it's a city with a ton of research opportunities - volunteer and paid.

What are your thoughts on how I could make myself more competitive?

Secondarily... what do you guys think my chances are this cycle? I know it's useless to ask at this point, but I'd love the insight because I don't have any clinical psych people around to ask!

My stats:
GPA: 3.94 (at an arts school)

GRE: 166V, 158Q, 5.0W

Psych GRE: 770

 

 

I am not sure about the USA and the requirements to register as a psychologist. But, in Canada, you NEED an undergrad in psychology, typically an honours, but you can get in without one if you have completed other major research projects. The reason a psychology degree is required to be accepted is because you are required to have an undergraduate degree in psychology to register as a psychologist within Canada as part of the Canadian Psychological Association requirements--which is based on the APA so it may very well be the same. Again, I can't say its the same in the states, but I would look closely into that because you have need to do an undergrad in psychology to go on the clinical path.

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3 hours ago, speechtopsych said:

Thanks! Yeah, I wish I had a more specific population, but it's really hard to determine that much specificity without having more experience in the field. I think I'll probably try and move to a lab that studies one of the things I'm interested in.

Secondly, I had a close friend commit suicide about a year ago. He was brilliantly smart, but incredibly depressed, and hid it. He was nicest guy ever, only brought joy to everyone around him. Also, it runs in my family. Grandfather attempted suicide before I was born and is now super cognitively impaired. My parents have struggled with their mental health, and now it seems like my little brother is, too. But HOW am I supposed to deliver this sob story in my personal statement? I tried at one point, but it got too "poor me." Also, it feels a little cliche' to be like, my dead friend inspired me to try and solve the depression problem! You know? Maybe it's just me.

I would highly recommend not including that, especially if you're applying to PhD programs. Focus on the research you would like to do rather than the clinical work as usually the people admitting you are focused on research, not clinical practice. If you do include it, do it in a single sentence like an earlier poster suggested. Do not make it into a long story as its going to hurt your application. There's a research article called the "Kiss of Death" which looks at things you should not include in your application. I attached the article below.

https://psychology.unl.edu/psichi/Graduate_School_Application_Kisses_of_Death.pdf

I'm sorry about your friend. 

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As others have said, it's entirely possible to not have much experience in the field and clearly draw a line between your prior experiences and where you want to go. I think the main issue with you is clarifying your research interest. Even the most competitive applicant will not be accepted if they cannot articulate that which they wish to study and why XYZ program/faculty person is the best choice for studying said interest. I understand wanting to apply to places you want to live, but I highly doubt that it's possible to apply to all of the places you've listed if you actually have a clear idea of what you hope to study in graduate school. Applying to graduate school is a bit about the program, but especially in clinical psychology, it's about the faculty member to which you are applying. 

I had a friend who also applied to programs based on location, and he was an exceptional applicant, but he played the game of applying to multiple people in several programs without articulating any clear sense of what he wanted to study, and he is now at an unfunded PsyD program. I think that's another good piece of advice; if your research interests are specific enough, it's unlikely you'll be able to apply to more than one faculty member in a given program. It's possible two faculty may conduct research adjacent to your own interests, but it's almost impossible that there are three. I think faculty also dislike it when it's obvious that an applicant only applied to multiple faculty to increase their chances of getting into a program. You don't want to be that person.

Also, if you haven't read this already, I'd recommend the Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology. 

Edited by youngqueerliving
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10 hours ago, youngqueerliving said:

As others have said, it's entirely possible to not have much experience in the field and clearly draw a line between your prior experiences and where you want to go. I think the main issue with you is clarifying your research interest. Even the most competitive applicant will not be accepted if they cannot articulate that which they wish to study and why XYZ program/faculty person is the best choice for studying said interest. I understand wanting to apply to places you want to live, but I highly doubt that it's possible to apply to all of the places you've listed if you actually have a clear idea of what you hope to study in graduate school. Applying to graduate school is a bit about the program, but especially in clinical psychology, it's about the faculty member to which you are applying. 

I had a friend who also applied to programs based on location, and he was an exceptional applicant, but he played the game of applying to multiple people in several programs without articulating any clear sense of what he wanted to study, and he is now at an unfunded PsyD program. I think that's another good piece of advice; if your research interests are specific enough, it's unlikely you'll be able to apply to more than one faculty member in a given program. It's possible two faculty may conduct research adjacent to your own interests, but it's almost impossible that there are three. I think faculty also dislike it when it's obvious that an applicant only applied to multiple faculty to increase their chances of getting into a program. You don't want to be that person.

Also, if you haven't read this already, I'd recommend the Insider's Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology. 

Thanks for the response!

Unfortunately, I was totally that person! For awhile I was in contact with a recent graduate from one of my programs who encouraged me to name as many faculty as I would be interested in working with... so I named at least 3 for all but one program. I definitely had moments where I was worried about doing this, but then I thought... it seems strange to spend $70-100 just to apply to work with one single person! Ah well. Lessons learned. I'm DEFINITELY not going to be able to pay for a PsyD, full stop. So I will just work to correct this next year. 

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4 hours ago, speechtopsych said:

Thanks for the response!

Unfortunately, I was totally that person! For awhile I was in contact with a recent graduate from one of my programs who encouraged me to name as many faculty as I would be interested in working with... so I named at least 3 for all but one program. I definitely had moments where I was worried about doing this, but then I thought... it seems strange to spend $70-100 just to apply to work with one single person! Ah well. Lessons learned. I'm DEFINITELY not going to be able to pay for a PsyD, full stop. So I will just work to correct this next year. 

Your logic makes sense, and I think a lot of people unfamiliar with the process follow the same thought process, so don't be too hard on yourself! Like I said, it may be that it makes sense to apply to more than one faculty member, but that should only be the case if your research interested is well-defined and happens to fit with those two (or more) faculty members. If you have anymore questions about the process, let me know!

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17 minutes ago, youngqueerliving said:

Your logic makes sense, and I think a lot of people unfamiliar with the process follow the same thought process, so don't be too hard on yourself! Like I said, it may be that it makes sense to apply to more than one faculty member, but that should only be the case if your research interested is well-defined and happens to fit with those two (or more) faculty members. If you have anymore questions about the process, let me know!

This makes so much sense.. this is my first cycle n I hv made the mistake of choosing multiple mentors. Some websites specified to choose atleast two n max 3. This led to believe that I was to choose multiple people. This definitely impacted the quality of sop as I cudnt b too specific about research topics n stuck to describing the general area of interest. What a bummer.. I wish this process was not so cryptic. Being an international student makes it all the more difficult as I didn’t kno anyone in the field.

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15 hours ago, youngqueerliving said:

It's possible two faculty may conduct research adjacent to your own interests, but it's almost impossible that there are three.

I believe it is very possible especially for Universities with a large faculty or research centers whose work are similar to your interest. I had about 4 in one University. What I did was to rank them and select no more than 3. It's incredibly expensive applying to graduate schools and I understand people trying to max out the opportunity. I deliberately chose to apply to schools where I had more than 1 POI to keep my costs down as much as possible. Just my 2 cents.

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