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How many places should I apply to?


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Title says it all. 


A lot of forum posters say around 10-15, and originally, I was going to apply to 12-14 different programs; however my adviser suggested four to five programs - 2 programs, I'm very interested in and 3ish that I can fall on as back-ups. Comments? Suggestions? 


If the info is needed: I hold a BA in History/Linguistics, decent GPA, stellar GRE, research experience, and three of the best LOR writers I could have dreamed for. Truthfully, my number one fear is my GPA is holding me back. Yes, I've thought of doing a MA and already have a few programs in mind; and yes, I know adcoms look at your whole application, so long as you pass the early GPA/GRE filters. 

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Well, are there actually 12-14 programs with a reasonable-to-good fit for your interests, which you would like to attend? That is, for each one, if it were the only school that accepted you, you would be happy to go there? 


This is sort of an individual decision; the costs of applying to many programs are mostly monetary. The main investment will be in creating the application materials in the first place, and customizing for the different schools is much less time-costly. Same goes for your LOR writers -- the main investment for them is in writing the a recommendation letter on your behalf; whatever modifications they will need to make for the various school you apply to obviously take some time, but much less than the initial investment in writing the first draft of the letter. The main question is whether there are enough good schools that are worth that additional investment, and also how confident you feel in your application and what your plan B would be in case you apply to just 4 places and don't get in. Personally, if I had the money, I'd apply to every school that seemed like a good fit because losing a year because I didn't give myself enough of a shot seems like a bad plan. [of course this plan means you might spend more time and money than necessary, in case you have a strong application and end up with lots of acceptances.]

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To be honest, I was not aware that LOR writers customize their letters for each individual school. I was under the impression that they write an overall description of your capabilities, positive attainments, pros/cons and if they have an acquaintance at the university that Im applying to, they will say "oh, hey Professor Buddy. I worked with this student and I think you and him would get along fine." (of course professors dont talk to each other that way, but you get the point).


Truthfully, there aren't alot of professor that study my area of interest. I would like to focus on 19th century childhood slavery in the US. Theres only a handful of professors that touch upon this theme; therefore, I expanded my POI search to include historians that study gender history, plantation society, or the African diaspora experience. I thought about working with Wilma King, THE expert on this topic; however, and this will sound so rude, shes 73 years old, so I fear she might retire before I complete my studies. The other 11 or so programs are mostly higher tier schools, and in my time on these forums, I learned that its best to apply far and wide and see what you reel in, in the end. 


Anyways, as always, great advise fuzzy! Many thanks

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I can't guarantee that anyone will indeed customize their letter; they may add a "school X is a great fit for LeventeL" paragraph, or not. They may change who the letter is addressed to, if they know who is on the adcom at each school, or not. For most applications, even if they use a completely identical letter, there is a form they need to fill out in addition to the letter that asks general questions about how they rank you among their students (current and past), etc. Extra apps do take more time, but not that much. Unless they are unwilling to do more than X applications, I think it's best to choose solely based on what you want to do. 


I think worrying about your POI's age is very reasonable. There is a very real possibility that someone who is 73 now will to be retiring or dealing with personal issues by the time you are ready to work on your dissertation. Your ideas for expanding the possible advisor pool sounds very reasonable to me, too. 

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