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Accepted to "reach" school, rejected from "safeties"?

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Hi all, 

I applied to a small handful of programs last year. A bit unexpectedly, I was rejected from programs that I think for my profile would be considered "target" or "safety" schools, and ended being accepted to one of the more prestigious programs I applied to. Now I want to obviously preface this by saying I understand grad school admissions are very personal and rankings matter a lot less than undergrad, they pay quite a bit of attention to fit, and above all that admissions are kinda arbitrary to begin with. That said, I didn't take any of the places I applied to lightly, I customized everything in my application to those schools, reached out to faculty members whose research themes fit very will with mine and all that jazz. So I was pretty floored to not even be invited to interview at those places. Another high ranking program on my list didn't really invite me to interview, but the program director did say I apparently barely missed the cut. 

I am applying to places again this time after having to decline my previous offer, so I kinda want to know what happened last time. I have some theories, though it is also important to declare that my sample size is fairly small because I only applied to 5 places. I figured one reason could be that the higher ranked programs have more resources to support someone like me (I am an international applicant) and that is why I made it bit further in their selections than the rest. But do you think there could be other factors involved? I would like to know so I can structure my choices this time to try to address that as best as possible. 

Edited by pipettingerror
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From my personal experience and anecdotal knowledge, I think it's pretty common for international students mostly due to lack of private funding at some less resourceful schools.

Also like you said, some of it is just arbitrary. I applied to both GSK and Weill Cornell, which have almost overlapping faculty because they used to run a joint program, and yet I was only invited to interview at GSK. And then one of the GSK interviewers started telling me about the differences between the two programs and how to choose between them, so I had to semi-awkwardly interrupt him and say I didn't get an interview for Cornell. Then he was like, "...I was away for the admissions meeting at Cornell, so something must have gone wrong..." Well I don't think anything went "wrong", I'm sure they made other great choices; it just goes to show that even missing one particular person on a meeting could make a big difference for quite a few applicants.

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