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why do schools ask what other programs are you applying to?


iowaguy

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What do you think the logic is for schools to ask this question in their applications? Are they trying to figure out where they likely stand among your top choices? To decide when to give you an exploding offer so as to "beat" another school to the punch?

I'm trying to figure out whether to list ALL the schools I'm applying to (including my "safety" schools), or whether to just list the top schools (so that the particular school in question feels like they are among the elite). Thoughts?

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I probably wouldn't share the top ranked schools I'm applying to. If the school feels like it's not among your top choices, they're not sure whether or not you'll enroll if they accept. I don't know if others are doing the same?

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I probably wouldn't share the top ranked schools I'm applying to. If the school feels like it's not among your top choices, they're not sure whether or not you'll enroll if they accept. I don't know if others are doing the same?

I look at it the from the other direction - I ended up at a slightly lower-ranked school largely because they offered me a very nice package to entice me knowing that I was also visiting higher-ranked programs.

Bear in mind that people within a discipline talk. One of my LOR writers got a phone call from one of her colleagues at a school I applied to and apparently (among other things) they discussed where else I was applying. I think honesty is the best policy in this situation.

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Honesty is definitely the best policy but most of the time I was asked this question, there was only spaces to fill in 2-4 other schools (I applied to 8 in total). So it's okay to select whatever schools help you the most.

However, I don't think the answer to this question will cause you to lose or gain an offer. For example, no school is going to think "oh Student X is applying to the top schools, he/she will get into those so we won't accept him/her" Why would they give up the chance to get a quality student? They just want this information to figure out what is each student's chance of accepting an offer, which helps them figure out how many offers to make (for example if they want to take a cohort of 10 students, and the average chance of acceptance is like 60%, they might make something like 17 offers initially).

If you are a super strong student, I think they will assume you will be applying to the best programs, no matter if you actually list them on the application or not. I also think getting an offer out first isn't a huge deal -- graduate students are smart enough to think about / consider all offers before making such a big decision, so as long as the results come in around the same time as others (i.e. Feb-early March), being early isn't going to be a huge advantage.

In most applications, when this question is asked, they explicitly say that this information is not used in the admissions decision. I think this is true (based on the above reasoning).

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I'm probably not going to disclose the top schools I'm applying for to anybody, except for my LOR writers (probably not even my parents). Me applying in the top 5 would be like hoping for a lottery and two lightning strikes. The schools that will go on paper will be the schools that are more realistic. I'll try to keep my total list at around 8 or 10.

Edited by child of 2
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I look at it the from the other direction - I ended up at a slightly lower-ranked school largely because they offered me a very nice package to entice me knowing that I was also visiting higher-ranked programs.

Bear in mind that people within a discipline talk. One of my LOR writers got a phone call from one of her colleagues at a school I applied to and apparently (among other things) they discussed where else I was applying. I think honesty is the best policy in this situation.

You mean they gave you a nicer stipend? I guess if they really wanted you, they would beef up the stipend regardless of your other school offers, I think.

Edited by child of 2
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I agree with TakeruK and sereth and others, but would also like to add another layer of speculation:

I am almost positive that this information is requested for statistical purposes (and possibly for recruitment purposes, but not in the obvious way). The university I attend compiles an annual report in which they profile the entering undergraduate and graduate classes (many, if not all, universities compile such reports). In my university's report, they included the top five or so schools that are considered to be this particular university’s biggest competition (probably based on which universities applicants list on their applications). Also, once admitted, you are requested to participate in a survey that asks how many schools you were admitted to (they asked me for a number, not to state specific universities). Basically, this university likes to note that their students chose to attend their university over the likes of Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Yale, etc. And who knows, this information may even affect program rankings.

It is possible that if a department has an idea of which programs/ universities a student is applying to, that they can then adjust their recruitment practices during the admissions process (like possibly make a more competitive offer—of course, only if they deem the candidate competitive and a good fit for their program). However, it is much more likely that this information is never received by adcomms. It may exclusively be information collected by the university for statistical purposes.

I mentioned that this information may affect recruitment in a more indirect way, which is to say that university administration determines a department’s budget, and if a department is receiving loads of applications for a program that is offered at a lot of other highly ranked universities, then the administration may increase that department’s budget to allow for more aggressive recruitment.

I could be totally wrong though. This is speculation from someone who used to work as a staff member in a university department that prioritized the collection of statistics as a way of petitioning the administration for more funding, among other things. Universities use statistics to make a lot of important budgetary decisions.

I really don’t think it will hurt your application to list the most competitive programs you are applying to; even if you don’t think of yourself as being the most competitive candidate, just assume that you are hot property.

Also, note that competitive graduate programs do not always correlate with the highest ranked universities. The program I applied to is only offered at a handful of universities, and I made it clear on my applications that I would be applying to them all (send the message: I am up for grabs, come and get it!—Ultimately, the decision is out of your hands, so just put on a brave face).

Sorry if my grammar is sloppy, I’m just taking a break from studying.

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Not sure if these long posts are useful, but I’d like to comment more on funding:

I just remembered that at my university, the department alone does not determine funding. Meaning the department only provides funding for the first year or two only if the university does not award the admitted student a university fellowship (we’re talking PhDs here). Remember, the “university” (it sounds sinister, and it should), not the adcomm, knows which other universities you applied to, but not necessarily whether or not you were accepted to any of them.

Since funding decisions are not entirely left up to the department at some, probably most, universities, then perhaps the information you provide about which other universities you applied to can affect funding decisions made by the university (in the form of fellowships).

So, perhaps you should put down the most competitive programs, and if recommended for admission by the adcomm, the university administration may then check to see which other programs you applied to to determine fellowship recipients (often based on merit (i.e., competitiveness) and diversity—not merit or diversity, but always merit and diversity). Funding is of course only considered for admitted applicants (if that isn’t obvious).

Okay, so this has been a fun game of speculation. Good bye now.

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