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Substantially Small Cohort


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Hi all,

I have recently been accepted to a university which was one of the top choices but looking on their website I noticed that in the past year there was a cohort of just three people. I am wondering if this is a good or bad thing? Ex: Good: the program is really selective v Bad: The school may not be able to fund that many students.

Any thoughts....?


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Totally depends on your field. That is completely normal for PhD students in my discipline. You may be part of a larger overall cohort depending on the circumstances (like specialty areas within psychology, for example).

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Admitted for that year

Depending on your field, that might be around right. I've seen some schools that take a very, very small amount of admits for the year. In my field at least. Keep in mind that how many students they admit depends on a lot of things. For instance, how many people have recently graduated. If more people graduated recently it means there are more spots to fill up. If less then it means they can take less people. Mos schools admit more students than they expect to take them up on the offer. If they admitted too many students the previous year, the following year they'll look to admit a smaller class size so they don't end up with too many students. It could be a variety of factors.

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There could be a lot of reasons why there was such a small cohort:

-The professor (not school or major) doesn't have a lot of funding for many students.

-The professor might have a heavy courseload or do consulting so he limits the size of his research group.

-A bunch of students in the cohort just graduated.

-University sets a limit on number of students permitted per professor.

-The website isn't updated to show all the students, it might just show students that are actual PhD Candidates.

-Many more.

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I don't know the exact answer to your question, but I can tell you my experiences and maybe that will help you a bit.


If you are doing a PhD, I think it makes a lot of sense for them to accept so few people. I have applied for a masters degree. They only accept around 10 people for my cluster. However, the program has multiple clusters (I think five) so there are actually a lot more people being accepted than you assume.


This could be your case. You didn't specify your program so I can't be sure, but I wouldn't worry too much. I would personally really enjoy a small cohort, especially if it was your number one choice. 

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Most of my schools accept very, very few people each year. Berkeley takes three. Columbia and Stanford each take four or five.


A pro of this: you get more facetime with each faculty member and each member of your cohort. You can make the most out of every single connection. 


Con: Match/program 'fit' becomes incredibly important, because there are fewer possible dialogues with your colleagues.


I met with a current grad student at one program I was looking at, he heard my research proposal and grabbed onto my arm and cried, "PLEASE get in here! My research is unlike everyone else in my program -- I HAVE NO ONE TO TALK TO." I wasn't exactly too surprised or disappointed when I received a rejection.

Edited by grad_wannabe
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Consider the total number of graduate students in the entire program and the average length of degree to determine if only 3 acceptances last year is normal.


For example, my program has 24 ish students and our average degree length is 5 or 6 years. This means we expect about 24/6 = 4 incoming students each year. And this is typical (in reality the number ranges from 0 to 8, although most numbers are between 2 and 6).


So if the program in question admitted 3 students last year but has about 30 or fewer students total, I wouldn't be too worried. On the other hand, if there are 100 students in the program but they only took 3 last year, I would wonder why.

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