How Many Graduate Programs Should You Apply To?

You don't need a calculator to figure out how many graduate programs to apply to.

You don’t need a calculator to figure out how many graduate programs to apply to.

With admissions season quickly approaching, we wanted to answer a question we see fairly often: “How many graduate programs should I apply to?” The answer to this depends on each individual student, but a good rule of thumb is to try and apply to no more than 10 schools.

There’s a few reasons for this somewhat arbitrary cutoff:

  • You don’t want to overwhelm your letter writers: Each letter writer will have to tailor his/her letter to each school, and even if it is just slightly tweaking each letter for a specific school, that’s still a lot of work! Many letter writers we’ve talked to said they would not tweak more than 10 letters unless there was a very strong and compelling reason for them to. These advisors and professors are doing you a favor! Don’t make more work than is usually expected
  • You don’t want to spread yourself too thin: Submitting 6-10 strong, tailored applications is far more advantageous than submitting 10-15 less well-written applications. You want to ensure your applications reflect your high achievement and positive qualities, so you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with more applications than you can successfully complete. It’s completely understandable to want to spread your risk out and apply to more schools in the hopes of getting in to at least one, but this may backfire if you submit many low quality applications rather than few high quality applications.
  • You don’t want to apply to schools you don’t want to attend: Worst case scenario, you are only accepted to a single graduate program. Would you be willing to attend this institution? Don’t apply to schools you wouldn’t be willing to spend 4+ years of your life at! Don’t apply to programs where you wouldn’t be happy grueling in lab for hours on end. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re stuck in a program you despise, just because you were more afraid of not getting in at all! Make sure you would be 100% happy and content with attending each program you apply to.
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