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How many schools did you apply to?

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As everyone who applied this cycle receives their results and makes their decisions, I'd be curious to know: how many schools did you apply to, and do you feel like that was the right number? It seems some people apply to as few as 3 while others have applications in the double digits. I'm building my list to apply in the fall, and I'd love to hear from people who have already been through the process whether they wish they'd given themselves more options, or if they wasted their time and ran out of steam from too many apps, etc.

Follow-up question would be how many (to borrow from undergrad admissions terms) match/reach/safety schools you applied to and if you felt like that was the right mix.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts, and forgive me if this has been covered already- I couldn't find anything in this forum specifically beyond a few comments in the advice for future applicants section of results threads, and I think grad school admissions as a whole are too varied to compare feedback from people applying to other programs.

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I was considering applying to a maximum of 8 universities at one point, but ultimately narrowed it down to 6. In hindsight, I would have probably removed another 2 schools off that master list.

I'm not sure if I can really speak to the safety vs. reach schools since I uh, got into every program. >_> I tailored my applications to fit with each program as much as possible. I suppose I felt as if I had applied to 2 matches, 2 reaches, and 2 safeties.

Edited by RCtheSS

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Original intent was to apply to 7-8.  I researched over 15 schools and kept a spreadsheet for all the schools with pertinent information.  I finally narrowed it down to 4 schools that I would be happiest at and that's where I applied.  2 of them were "matches" and the other 2 were "reaches". 

 

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I applied to four schools...I didn't want to waste time, effort, and money on applying to a bunch that I couldn't see myself attending so I really narrowed it down. Similar to other posters, I applied to two schools that I felt very confident about and two that were considered reaches. I don't regret not applying to more, but I also knew I was picky about location of the school.

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I applied to six. In retrospect if I'd spent more time researching the courses offered by each university I probably would have applied to only four schools, or even three. Similarly, I don't think the concept of a "safety school" is very useful for grad admissions. You should only apply to the schools that offer the courses and networking which will help you in your career and align with your professional goals. One of the two schools I'm deciding between is less selective and prestigious than the others but it's strong in my field, so I don't consider it a safety and am glad I applied.

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7

In hindsight I would say I applied to too many safety-mid range schools (I also have gotten in everywhere so far. I only haven't heard back from 1 sort of random program. For what it's worth, I applied to several environment/energy based programs with concentrations in policy rather than strictly MPA/MPP ones. There aren't any rankings on energy programs that I know of so I don't actually know where they fall). I applied to one research program at an ok school last year and didn't get in. I would say my stats/experience are decent, but nothing spectacular. So going into this application cycle I had a feeling I'd have a better chance when not tied to research fit and availability, but I still didn't set my sights that high. I did get into some good programs that I'm happy with, but I wonder what could have happened if I reached even higher. I think this also happened partially because I just used Google to find programs instead of US News rankings to see which were top programs in various fields.

If I were to do it again I would shoot higher and only apply to schools I would actually want to go to (mid and reach schools). I would also probably focus on schools in geographic pockets (mainly DC/east coast) and at least take a shot at a few top schools like Duke, Columbia, Princeton, and Georgetown. Unless you have no backup plan (i.e. work/intern) if you don't get into grad school, I would ditch applying to "safeties" altogether, or apply to 1 at most (I wasn't in this category, hence the bigger number of applications). Grad school is a big commitment and you want to do it right, so don't waste time, energy, and money on a safety school you're not that interested in. It looks like you're working at the moment so you probably don't have to worry about safeties at all. 

Edited by Windmills

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I applied to four schools, of which I viewed 2 as matches and 2 as reaches.  Like everyone before me has mentioned, it's kind of a crapshoot when it comes to figuring out if you'll get in.  I think that if you're relatively near the GPA and GRE of previous class profiles then you should take a chance and apply to schools you might view as reach schools.  It's expensive to apply to a ton of schools, plus if you're like me and hate bothering people for LORs then I felt it was easier to say that I only needed them to submit four letters.  

 

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3 minutes ago, mapiau said:

I applied to six. In retrospect if I'd spent more time researching the courses offered by each university I probably would have applied to only four schools, or even three. Similarly, I don't think the concept of a "safety school" is very useful for grad admissions. You should only apply to the schools that offer the courses and networking which will help you in your career and align with your professional goals. One of the two schools I'm deciding between is less selective and prestigious than the others but it's strong in my field, so I don't consider it a safety and am glad I applied.

I totally agree with this...I think it's really important to do your research before applying and make sure that classes, culture, and program requirements align with what you want. It's also hard to call any grad school a "safety" but I think it's important to find a school that you'd be happy attending that aligns with your goals/interests and that fits your GRE/GPA/WE profile, if that makes sense. 

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I applied to 6 (2 reaches, 2 matches, and 2 safeties). My safeties were based on geographic location and the fact that I knew I would quality for a good amount of funding. My matches were programs I definitely wanted to go to but was still unsure if I could actually get in.  My reach schools were schools I knew had a good reputation for academics and good reputation for fully funding their students. 

I initially had my list narrowed down to 8 schools and even had my recommenders submit the letters to the other 2.  But by the end of the application process, I didn't submit them because I knew I could never see myself going to those schools. One of the schools was not in a location I saw myself for two years (I knew I wanted to be in the DC area for networking reasons) and the other was because of the program structure (it required a thesis).

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36 minutes ago, hina234 said:

 

I applied to 6 (2 reaches, 2 matches, and 2 safeties). My safeties were based on geographic location and the fact that I knew I would quality for a good amount of funding. My matches were programs I definitely wanted to go to but was still unsure if I could actually get in.  My reach schools were schools I knew had a good reputation for academics and good reputation for fully funding their students. 

I initially had my list narrowed down to 8 schools and even had my recommenders submit the letters to the other 2.  But by the end of the application process, I didn't submit them because I knew I could never see myself going to those schools. One of the schools was not in a location I saw myself for two years (I knew I wanted to be in the DC area for networking reasons) and the other was because of the program structure (it required a thesis).

This reminds me of another point... I actually would recommend applying to a safety or ideally some respected mid-tier program where you would be a top candidate in the hopes that you get a really good funding offer. Even if you don't want to go there, you might be able to use that funding offer as leverage to get (more) money from your other top picks.

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23 minutes ago, Windmills said:

This reminds me of another point... I actually would recommend applying to a safety or ideally some respected mid-tier program where you would be a top candidate in the hopes that you get a really good funding offer. Even if you don't want to go there, you might be able to use that funding offer as leverage to get (more) money from your other top picks.

Yeah. When I was applying, my thought process was that if I didn't get into my top schools, at least I would get into a school that I know will be affordable and near a geographic location I want to work in.

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My outside funding through my employer required me to apply to at least three schools, which I think speaks to what a crapshoot the admissions process can be. I applied to four because I was a bit anxious about where I really stood in the candidate pool as a midcareer candidate who didn't have stellar undergrad transcripts. I felt I was reaching with two schools and a good fit for the other two—albeit that one was probably closer to a safety given more in depth research since.

I have been accepted to the three programs I have heard back from (including my number one where I'll attend).

I actually feel fortunate to have started this process a bit late in the season in regard to the fact that I had some schools that I was simply too late to apply to and I didn't have much time to dwell on the application components. 

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I started looking at 30-something schools, then narrowed it down to 15.  Ultimately, I applied to 9, and to be honest, that was probably a mistake.  I thought that I would have a hard time getting in considering I'm still in undergrad, but it turned out to be okay since I somehow was accepted to all of them.  About half of my schools were 'matches' and the other half were 'reaches' I think.  If I had to do it over, I might have applied to some more competitive schools that have more funding to give, instead of middle-range schools that don't offer much funding. 

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I researched dozens and picked about 10 I really liked. Then I narrowed it down to 8, and with some guidance from previous applicants/friends, narrowed it again to 6. (I applied to 3 business programs as well). I guess I sort of categorized them as 2 safety, 2 match, and 2 reach schools, although it has a little different meaning than undergrad since no program is guaranteed and I would recommend only applying to programs that excite you. I just happened to pick 2 where I was at the top end of their stats, 2 I matched, and 2 I was at the low end. I honestly think even applying to 6 is a little much because I got into 5/6 and there are a couple schools I got into that I realized I had only applied to because I was nervous about the others. Now it just seems like wasted time/money because I'm going to turn those ones down without a second glance (although they are good for leveraging funding). I would really research what you want in a program/classes/cohorts/faculty BEFORE you apply. It will make the process easier and your application stronger.

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I had an odd situation where I am really interested in international health policy, which usually boils down to getting an MPH in health policy & management, an MPP/MPA that focuses on health policy, or an MA in IR at specific schools that let you focus on international development and health issues. I also had a low GPA (~3.2, though from a top-10 school according to USNWR) but also fantastic GRE scores (95+ percentile). 

I had no idea how the stats would balance out, nor which types programs would be more/less inclined to focus on GPA/GRE vs. SoP. I decided to apply to 1 MPH program, 5 MPP/MPA programs, and 2 MA in IR-esque programs for a total of 8. I only applied to reach/match programs, though, because I like my job and was more than happy to keep working if I didn't get into a very good program. I ended up getting into 5(!) of them (rejected from HKS, WWS, Yale Jackson; accepted to Chicago Harris, Michigan Ford, Georgetown McCourt, JHU SAIS, and UNC MSPH in the Health Policy & Management dept), including with $30k in funding at SAIS and some $$ at a couple others.

All in all, did better than my wildest dreams, so I'd echo the general sentiments on this board that less is fine except for the funding part - as someone said, if you get funding at one place, you can totally use that to leverage money from other programs. Otherwise, if you're just focused on getting in, I wouldn't worry so much about applying to a bunch of programs. Best of luck!

 

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Just three. I didn't want move from the DC area since I'm already there. More importantly, I figured there's no point in applying to a school unless I 100% would go.

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8 hours ago, Windmills said:

7

In hindsight I would say I applied to too many safety-mid range schools (I also have gotten in everywhere so far. I only haven't heard back from 1 sort of random program. For what it's worth, I applied to several environment/energy based programs with concentrations in policy rather than strictly MPA/MPP ones. There aren't any rankings on energy programs that I know of so I don't actually know where they fall). I applied to one research program at an ok school last year and didn't get in. I would say my stats/experience are decent, but nothing spectacular. So going into this application cycle I had a feeling I'd have a better chance when not tied to research fit and availability, but I still didn't set my sights that high. I did get into some good programs that I'm happy with, but I wonder what could have happened if I reached even higher. I think this also happened partially because I just used Google to find programs instead of US News rankings to see which were top programs in various fields.

If I were to do it again I would shoot higher and only apply to schools I would actually want to go to (mid and reach schools). I would also probably focus on schools in geographic pockets (mainly DC/east coast) and at least take a shot at a few top schools like Duke, Columbia, Princeton, and Georgetown. Unless you have no backup plan (i.e. work/intern) if you don't get into grad school, I would ditch applying to "safeties" altogether, or apply to 1 at most (I wasn't in this category, hence the bigger number of applications). Grad school is a big commitment and you want to do it right, so don't waste time, energy, and money on a safety school you're not that interested in. It looks like you're working at the moment so you probably don't have to worry about safeties at all. 

Hi windmills, 

It's interesting to see that you are also looking for a program with energy/ environment focus. Would you mind sharing with me which schools did you apply for, and what is your impression on their programs? I have a difficult situation where I have to decide whether MPA or MPP or MA for my scholarship application from my country now, so it's great to hear more from your insights. 

 

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Seven schools. I wanted to give myself options and increase my chances of getting a big fellowship. I'd say that JHU and GU, and perhaps Columbia were my reach schools, and Denver was my safety.

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28 minutes ago, naso said:

Hi,

Which business programs did you apply to?

Berkeley, UCLA, and Georgetown. Rejected from Berkeley, haven't heard back yet from UCLA, admitted to Georgetown.

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Six. Accepted in four. Would ideally have wanted to apply to two others as well and dropped one of my actual applications to make it seven. I could not apply to those two mainly because i had technical issues getting my official transcripts ready from my university and I ran out of time. None of my applications were to safety schools and I could join any of them. Hence I am having great difficulty selecting the right program for me at this time. Decisions. Decisions.

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I believe I may have looked at around 30 schools, and I narrowed them down to approximately 14 MPP/MPA/MIA programs. This doesn't include the pharmacy programs I applied to. I wanted to have strong institutions that I could pair with potential fellowships that I applied for and weaker, but still moderately strong institutions that I'd have a good chance of getting a great deal of financial aid at.  This was quite problematic as I don't fit the typical applicant's profile: I'm graduating with a STEM degree after two years of college (I didn't have an AA via dual enrollment prior to entering) and applying straight out of undergrad with no full time work experience. With my financial situation, financial considerations, along with the strength of the programs' DC networks, were paramount--I focused on the percentage of students receiving financial aid, the number of students receiving half-tuition or preferably better scholarships (full tuition, stipend, etc.), and my place relative to the incoming class (experience credentials, etc.). In addition, I took some time analyzing the curricula, placement in DC (number of graduates and types of positions), and other location factors of the schools.

Thus, I ended up with several reach institutions (admitted to Johns Hopkins-SAIS, rejected/wait-listed by some others) and "safeties", specifically fitting the definition of 1) good chances of admission and 2) relatively good chances of half/full tuition scholarships. I can't say that I regret applying to so many institutions--it was certainly an eye-opener on the value of work experience, and I was able to familiarize myself in depth with the curricula and opportunities associated with public affairs programs around the nation and world. And I certainly believe that if I'd taken a more narrow route with my applications, I might not have ended up with the full tuition fellowship with the University of Texas-Austin's LBJ MPAff program.

But with the strange opportunity to choose between the LBJ school's MPAff fellowship, JHU-SAIS, and the PharmD program at the University of Florida, I once again run into the issues of work experience. Without W.E., I can't say for certain whether I'd be able to leverage LBJ's curriculum more strongly than I would with UF's PharmD program. The choice is difficult given the disparity between the fields and the lack of enthusiasm I had when I originally applied to both the LBJ school and UF's PharmD programs.

Edited by AAAAAAAA

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I applied to three schools. My list was originally six, but when I really thought about it I couldn't find enough interest in the other schools to actually apply myself to the application (haha). 

I, however, am interested only in MPA programs that have an available focus in (non-Homeland Security) emergency management. So my list was rather small to begin with. 

I didn't have any safety schools, but I was admitted into my top two of the three schools anyway. And the third is in my home state, so although I was nervous about having so few options, I made it work. 

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Guest SIPA_MPA18

I applied to 3. I originally had a list of 15 I believe...all MPA/MPP programs but of varying lengths/cohorts. Because I was leaving the military with semi-relevant work experience, I was unsure whether or not to go for a mid-career 1-year program or just stick it out for a full 2-year program. I ultimately decided on wanting the full experience of being back on campus, plus I didn't want to move again after just one year...enough of that in the military the past eight years. So that eliminated those. I was completely unsure of my chances of getting in to my three schools (SIPA, Wagner, Sanford), so I could consider them reaches. There were uber-reaches I considered as HKS and WWS that I didn't bother applying to mainly because of location, not sure if I'd even be competitive, and the fact that I just didn't want to do more applications and waste money. I had it narrowed down to 5 and then decided on my three favorites, hoping I'd get into at least one. 

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I applied to three very similar ones housed in large public universities in areas that had generally warm and favorable climates (this was important to me): UT LBJ, UW Evans, U Georgia. 

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