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How many graduate schools should you apply to?


Nelly Mc
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There is no minimum when applying to schools, but applying to only one school does put the proverbial eggs all in one basket. There are many factors to consider when choosing which schools to apply to, including: cost of application, time to research and craft a great SoP for each school, time and money to visit schools (if possible), cost of sending each school your GRE and transcripts, and ability to make solid connections with POIs. In addition, asking your letter writers to write you letters for a ridiculously long list (say 20 or more, as an example) could backfire, as it indicates immaturity in your academic journey (i.e. being unable to narrow down schools based on your interests and goodness of fit may indicate you are not ready for this next step). 

Last year, I submitted to 5 schools. This year, my goal is 12 or less (with a hopeful goal of under 10). 

Hopefully, this is a helpful answer. <3

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I applied to 9 English PhD programs last year. I was accepted at two, wait-listed at two and rejected at 5. The average cost is about $100 per application, especially if you have more than one transcript to send. There is no set number of places you should apply. It all depends on what your budget can stand. Apply only to schools in places you really want to live in and that have professors in line with your research. Otherwise, you might end up somewhere you don't want to be. Remember, there is no such thing as a safety school. You can have terrific grades (BA 3.85 & MA 4.0); pretty good GRE scores (V-163, Eng dept don't really look at math), SOPs and WSs that have been picked over by half the faculty in your department and still not get admitted to the majority of schools you apply to. The unknown factor of what the committee is looking for still prevails. You can only do your best and then wait. Good luck.

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Same as those stated above, it comes down to budget. My budget is around 500 bucks overall. So I am planning to apply to at most 5 schools. These schools are primarily defined by research and stipend money. E.g. Not really going to any school in new york city, not looking to take out loans to and have 90% of my stipend go to housing alone. Haven't really looked at if I'm underqualified or not (e.g. one of my schools is Harvard), but that may be a factor you will want to consider. I do have one lower tier school in my list for this exact reason (I still like the research and stipend, just not my most desired choice), so that if everywhere rejects me, I at least get into somewhere. 

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True enough @samman1994 . I think goodness of fit is the number one thing an applicant should look for in a school, but many schools do have cutoffs for either GPA or GRE scores (or both) so it's important to pay attention to this before wasting $100 on a program that's just going to throw out the app.

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2 minutes ago, GreenEyedTrombonist said:

True enough @samman1994 . I think goodness of fit is the number one thing an applicant should look for in a school, but many schools do have cutoffs for either GPA or GRE scores (or both) so it's important to pay attention to this before wasting $100 on a program that's just going to throw out the app.

By the way, field is important as well. In my field (Biochemistry), research is sometimes seen as more important than GPA and GRE scores, so even if you are below the cutoff, if you have a good research background, you might still get in. Secondly, in my field as well, if you can convince the POI (persons lab you'd like to join) to take you on, and that you'd be a good fit in their lab, they could personally push your application forward. So there are a lot of factors depending on your field as well. 

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@samman1994 also true :) My point was primarily referencing programs that will robo-filter before looking at an app. 

Basically, if you are interested in attending a program, but have a score or background that makes you worried about your chances, reach out to the DGS or a POI and discuss the application process and what they look for in a candidate. For example, although I have a background in anthropology, I am looking to apply to communication programs so I've been contacting the DGS at each program I think would be a good fit and asking if my background in anthropology would hinder my application there/ways I can strengthen myself as an applicant. So far the responses have been positive and informative. :) 

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2 hours ago, samman1994 said:

Same as those stated above, it comes down to budget. My budget is around 500 bucks overall. So I am planning to apply to at most 5 schools. These schools are primarily defined by research and stipend money. E.g. Not really going to any school in new york city, not looking to take out loans to and have 90% of my stipend go to housing alone. Haven't really looked at if I'm underqualified or not (e.g. one of my schools is Harvard), but that may be a factor you will want to consider. I do have one lower tier school in my list for this exact reason (I still like the research and stipend, just not my most desired choice), so that if everywhere rejects me, I at least get into somewhere. 

I had an undergrad professor give me some good advice about schools that were likely to accept me. He told me to look at the bios of the current grad students. If their backgrounds were somewhat similar to mine, I should feel confident in applying. When I looked at the Ivy League schools, I realized that my background was seriously lacking by comparison. When I looked at the big capstone state universities, I discovered the niche I fit in. I am now a first year PhD student at one of the largest state institutions in the country and even though it's only been a few weeks since the semester began, I feel a good fit within the department. 

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1 hour ago, cowgirlsdontcry said:

I had an undergrad professor give me some good advice about schools that were likely to accept me. He told me to look at the bios of the current grad students. If their backgrounds were somewhat similar to mine, I should feel confident in applying. When I looked at the Ivy League schools, I realized that my background was seriously lacking by comparison. When I looked at the big capstone state universities, I discovered the niche I fit in. I am now a first year PhD student at one of the largest state institutions in the country and even though it's only been a few weeks since the semester began, I feel a good fit within the department. 

Again, I think that is really dependent on your major. My gpa is 3.00, but I still feel like I might have a decent chance at Harvard since I have some nice background research experience. I think I have a good chance of convincing the POI that I'd be a good fit for their lab, even though my gpa is pretty garbage. 

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  • 1 month later...

Speaking of budget, many graduate schools will waive the application fee if you were a Pell Grant recipient or from an underrepresented ethnic group. I planned to apply to 3 or 4 schools at most but decided to go for 8 due to finding out about these fee waivers.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It depends on budget, interest, and also the field you're going into. For example, I know colleagues in humanities who applied to 7 or 8 but for the people I know applying to Health Informatics, the standard is 3 or 4, maybe even less if you know exactly what you want.

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How do you know how many applications is too much? That is, putting aside the issue of any time or money limitations on my part. I see that someone here said 20+ applications is too much, but I have had a case in the past where I asked a (non-academic) reference and applied to 6 schools, which I don't think is much, but after maybe the 5th application he expressed annoyance at having to write so many letters. Perhaps it's best to ask reference writers how many letters they're willing to write beforehand (and then possibly limit my number of applications based on that)? Also I wonder if there is a cultural difference between countries - this was a Canadian reference, and maybe Canadians expect applicants to apply to fewer places than Americans do. 

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After narrowing down research interests, programs of interest, and geographical location (if that's a factor that matters to you), I can't imagine anyone wanting to apply to 20+ schools.  Each SoP has to be tailored to that program specifically, and if you're just hoping to spread your net as wide as it will go to get in anywhere, I think it will show in your statement.  I'm geographically restricted to applying to specific schools in larger cities (due to personal reasons and financial goals) and have a defined area of research I want to go to, so I'm only applying to 7 programs.  I originally had 8, but one school was pretty clear about their GRE cut off which mine did not meet.  I have one app left to go, and I'm glad I picked the number of schools I did.  Personally, I think once you hit the double digits, around 12 or so, that's already a lot.  But it will entirely depend on your time commitment and the research you've done into each program.

Also, if your program does interview/recruitment weekends, that's something to consider.  If you apply to 12 programs you hear back from ALL of them, there's a good chance you'll have conflicting weekends and you'll be traveling A LOT over the interviewing season.

Edited by StemCellFan
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Another "it depends" based on research interests, programs of interest, budget, geographic location. Another factor can be "non academic responsibilities."

For my first masters , I applied to 12 schools because I had the flexibility to upend my life. I was also not as certain about my career "end goals". When I had more direction, I applied to 5 schools (2nd masters). Now, my life has changed drastically. I have a full-time career and need to work a doctoral around those responsibilities. So my choices are limited to part-time professional doctoral degrees. Out of the 2 reasonable possibilities, 1 of them isn't what I'm looking for. So, that means when I apply for a DrPH, I'm only applying to one school. All eggs will be in one basket, but I'm at a point in my life where that's acceptable.

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Applying to history programs here. I had a couple trusted professors tell me that, ideally, they recommended applying to between 10-20 schools. I saved up $2,000 over the course of the last year just for these applications. (I figure if I find a school with a really good funding offering, it will all be worth it.) I have settled on 17 programs to apply to. I narrowed it down based on national ranking (a handful of top tier dream schools, a handful of moderates, and a handful of "safety" schools), faculty fit (I emailed professors at each school researching the topic specialties that I'm interested in and gauged whether I would be a good fit in that program), and funding (I am going for a Master's degree first, and certain schools won't fund M.A. students, so I'm only applying to schools that will pay me a full ride to go for my M.A.).

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