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Is likelihood of attendance a factor in admissions decisions?


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Suppose that one paid careful attention to research interests and to credentials when building an application list, and that one's application list has a rather wide spread (rankings-wise).


One could argue that, since fit could also comprise the discourse of a student's peers, a top student may get rejected at a lowly-ranked school for its field because the dept would feel that the student is unlikely to attend if admitted.


And I also heard about a school admitting a student that the depts of its research collaborators rejected (in as much that departments may talk to each other but departments would do so primarily through their research collaborations) earlier in the cycle.


Finally, are there fields that are more sensitive to likelihood of acceptance than others?

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It is my understanding that a strong applicant, whose research interests reasonably match those of the program, will get admitted -- even to those "lowly-ranked" schools where they are unlikely to attend. From the point of view of a "lowly-ranked school", the only way to get outstanding students is to offer them admittance. They might not all bite, but 1/10 is certainly more than you'd get if you didn't offer admittance to any of them.

I thought "likelihood of attendance" was used to determine the total number of offers made. For instance, if you have 30 interviewees, each applying to 5 other schools (6 total) of relatively equal standing, and you want a class of 4 students, you would offer to 24 of your 30 interviewees (assuming equal probability of each student attending each school, 1/6). Of course, this is an overly simplified example, and in the real world this is significantly more difficult to quantify.

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Rankings are hit or miss when it comes to grad programs; sometimes the topped ranked programs are at lower ranked schools.  I think the phenomenon of applying to a wide-range of schools (which would include the so-called "safety") is rather new to grad school admissions and most likely comes from Millennials who did the "shotgun" effect for undergrad (because, you know, you never know where you might get in so you might as well apply to ten reaches!). I think conventional wisdom applies to the OP:  1.  even if an applicant was accepted into a top-ranked program it is still possible they might go elsewhere, 2. if an applicant did their research and applied to programs based on "research interests and credentials" then the idea of a safety flies out the window.  All applied-to programs in the case of #2 would be of equal interests to the applicant, meaning that #1 would apply.  


I have heard of undergrad admissions denying "top" students based on the likelihood of them not attending, but I don't think such tactics apply to grad school, and they might just be urban legends to begin with.  It is in no program's best interests to deny an applicant simply because they are "too good for our cruddy program".  With grad school you are expected to have a reason, and a desire, to attend.  So, it is generally assumed that if one applies to a specific program than one would at least seriously consider the offer. 


I have heard of applicants being admitted to specific programs, but not to labs.  In fact, with one of my programs applicants are admitted first even if they do not have a PI/lab lined up, then acquire advisors/mentors/PIs second.  With this program students are not allowed to matriculate until they secure a mentor/PI, though.  With another program I am applying to it is totally possible to be admitted into the "school" but not the program (applicants apply to both the school and the program).  I am not sure what happens if the school says yes and the program says no, though. 

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I don't think grad school apps work like this at all...


For example, you can see the schools I applied to in my signature. I applied to the 10 best schools for my research interest in the country. By best, I mean that there are multiple very well respected professors doing the sort of work I want to. Of the schools I applied to, Stanford, UCSF, and Univ of Wash are probably the worst research fits. They have famous professors in my subfield but it is clear from my SOP and LORs that I am interested in the more theoretical side of the subfield and the professors at those schools do more applied work. I could be happy at those schools too but they would definitely have all been my last choices. They would open up less career opportunities since it would be more beneficial to get into a more theory oriented lab since all of those labs collaborate and I could network with other theory labs for post doc opportunities. Interestingly, the only schools I got rejected from were Stanford and UCSF and I got an interview off the waitlist at Univ of Wash. Other equally "ranked" schools like Hopkins and WashU gave me interviews super fast and are very interested in my application since they are great fits.


When I choose a school, I will choose the one that maximizes both short term happiness and long term career opportunities. Of the schools on my list, Rice and Univ of Maryland probably provide the most long term opportunities. The professors I would work for there are so freakin incredibly famous and will surely end up with nobel prizes at some point. But I have to balance this with short term happiness meaning I want professors who have time for their students and famous profs might not. I will seek out this info from current students at interviews. Department culture is always very important to me.


So when you say that lower ranked schools will not accept top students Im not really sure what you mean. Do you mean the schools without super famous professors or do you mean a ranking list that you would find on google that says nothing about subfield? of the schools on my list, maybe Univ of Maryland would be one of the "lower ranked" ones but there are multiple very famous professors there so that school would provide many more career opportunities than Stanford for example. So why would Maryland reject me based on the idea that I might go to Stanford? They know they are a better school for me than Stanford and that I would choose them first any day. The schools with less opportunities specific to your subfield (like Stanford for me) might reject you for that reason but that is why it is so important to apply to schools with a good research fit.

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