Getting into graduate school is no easy feat. With acceptance rates lower than ever, applying to multiple programs is practically a requirement to boost your chances of admission. But exactly how many schools should you apply to?
And how do you narrow down your options and target the right mix of reach, match, and safety programs?
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: most experts recommend applying to 5-10 programs as a healthy range. But the ideal number for you depends on factors like your qualifications, financial situation, and selectivity of your desired schools.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to determine the optimal number of grad schools to apply to. You’ll learn strategies for researching programs, estimating your competitiveness, balancing ambition with practicality, managing application costs, and more.
Conduct Thorough Research on Programs in Your Field
When it comes to applying for graduate school, conducting thorough research on programs in your field is essential. This research will help you make informed decisions about which programs are the best fit for your academic and career goals.
Here are some steps you can take to conduct thorough research:
Identify your academic and career goals
Before you begin your research, it’s important to have a clear understanding of your academic and career goals. Take the time to reflect on what you hope to achieve through graduate school and what areas of your field interest you the most.
This will help you narrow down your options and focus your research on programs that align with your goals.
Search for all potential program options
Once you have identified your goals, it’s time to start searching for potential program options. Start by looking at reputable websites such as US News and Peterson’s to find a comprehensive list of graduate programs in your field.
Take note of the programs that catch your attention and seem like a good fit for your goals.
Create a spreadsheet to compare programs
A spreadsheet can be a helpful tool to compare and organize the information you gather on different programs. Create columns for important factors such as program ranking, location, cost, faculty expertise, and available resources.
As you gather information on each program, fill in the corresponding cells in your spreadsheet. This will enable you to easily compare programs and make an informed decision.
Gather detailed information on each school
Once you have a list of potential programs, it’s time to gather more detailed information on each school. Visit the official websites of the programs you are interested in to learn more about their curriculum, admission requirements, and faculty.
Reach out to current students or alumni to get their perspectives on the program. You can also attend virtual information sessions or webinars hosted by the schools to get a better sense of what they offer.
By conducting thorough research on programs in your field, you will be able to make well-informed decisions about which graduate schools to apply to. Remember to take into account your academic and career goals, search for all potential options, create a spreadsheet to compare programs, and gather detailed information on each school.
Good luck with your research!
Evaluate Your Competitiveness as an Applicant
Look at average test scores and GPAs
One way to evaluate your competitiveness as a graduate school applicant is to look at the average test scores and GPAs of admitted students. This information can give you an idea of where you stand compared to other applicants.
Check the websites of the graduate programs you are interested in for this data. For example, US News provides rankings and statistics for various graduate programs, including average test scores and GPAs of admitted students.
Review admission rates and class profiles
Another important factor to consider is the admission rates and class profiles of the graduate programs you are considering. Admission rates can give you an idea of how competitive the program is and how many applicants are accepted.
Class profiles can provide information about the backgrounds and qualifications of admitted students. This can help you gauge whether you would be a good fit for the program. Many graduate program websites provide this information, so be sure to do your research.
Consider your letters of recommendation
Letters of recommendation are an important part of the application process and can provide insight into your qualifications and potential as a graduate student. Consider the strength and credibility of the individuals who will be writing your letters.
Ideally, you want letters from individuals who can speak to your academic abilities, work ethic, and potential for success in graduate school.
Assess relevant research/work experience
Relevant research or work experience can also play a significant role in evaluating your competitiveness as an applicant. Graduate programs often value applicants with hands-on experience in their field of interest.
Consider the research projects you have been involved in, internships you have completed, or any other relevant work experience you have gained. Highlighting these experiences in your application can demonstrate your commitment and readiness for graduate studies.
Categorize Schools into Reach, Target, and Safety
When applying to graduate school, it is important to have a clear understanding of the different categories of schools you should be considering. By categorizing schools into reach, target, and safety, you can effectively manage your application process and increase your chances of admission.
Let’s take a closer look at each category:
Reach schools – Less than 50% chance of admission
Reach schools are highly competitive and have a low acceptance rate. These are the schools where your chances of admission are less than 50%. It’s important to apply to reach schools, as they often have prestigious programs and can provide you with an excellent education.
However, it’s also important to be realistic about your chances of getting in. Make sure to have a strong application, including stellar letters of recommendation, a compelling personal statement, and impressive academic achievements.
Target schools – 50-80% chance of admission
Target schools are the ones where your chances of admission fall between 50% and 80%. These schools are a good fit for your academic profile and have a reasonable chance of accepting you. When considering target schools, make sure to research their programs and determine if they align with your academic and career goals.
It’s important to put effort into your application for target schools, as competition can still be stiff. Highlight your accomplishments and demonstrate why you would be a great fit for the program.
Safety schools – 80%+ chance of admission
Safety schools are the ones where you have a high chance of admission, with an acceptance rate of 80% or more. These schools are a safety net and can provide you with a solid education if you don’t get into your reach or target schools.
While safety schools may not be as prestigious as reach schools, they can still offer quality programs and opportunities for growth. It’s important to choose safety schools that you would genuinely be happy attending and can still help you achieve your academic and career goals.
Remember, the number of schools you should apply to depends on various factors, including your academic profile, personal circumstances, and financial resources. It’s recommended to apply to a mix of reach, target, and safety schools to increase your chances of admission and have a range of options to choose from.
Aim to Apply to 2-4 Schools Per Category
When it comes to applying to graduate schools, it’s important to have a well-thought-out strategy. One common approach is to aim for 2-4 schools per category, which includes reach schools, target schools, and safety schools.
This approach allows you to have a balanced list of schools and increases your chances of acceptance.
2-3 Reach Schools to Aim High
Reach schools are the ones where your chances of acceptance may be lower, but they offer excellent programs and opportunities that align with your goals. It’s important to have a couple of reach schools on your list to challenge yourself and aim high.
These schools are typically highly competitive, and their acceptance rates may be lower compared to other categories.
While it’s important to be ambitious, it’s also crucial to be realistic. Research the admission statistics, prerequisites, and requirements of each reach school you’re considering. This will help you determine if you meet their criteria and if it’s worth applying.
3-5 Target Schools Where You’re a Competitive Applicant
Target schools are the ones where you have a good chance of being accepted based on your academic qualifications, work experience, and extracurricular activities. These schools are a great fit for your goals and aspirations.
Aim for 3-5 target schools to increase your chances of acceptance and find the right fit for your future.
When choosing target schools, consider factors such as program reputation, faculty expertise, location, and resources available. Each school should align with your academic and career goals, ensuring that you’ll receive the education and support you need.
1-2 Safety Schools Where You’re Very Likely to Get In
Safety schools are the ones where you have a high probability of being accepted. These schools act as a safety net in case you don’t get accepted to your reach or target schools. It’s recommended to include 1-2 safety schools on your list to ensure you have viable options.
While safety schools may not be your top choices, it’s essential to research their programs and offerings. You want to ensure that even if you end up attending a safety school, you’ll still receive a quality education and have opportunities for growth.
Remember, the number of schools you apply to will ultimately depend on your personal circumstances, time availability, and financial considerations. It’s important to strike a balance between applying to enough schools to increase your chances of acceptance while also being mindful of the effort and cost involved in the application process.
Consider Financial Factors in Your Decision
When deciding how many grad schools to apply to, it’s important to consider the financial factors involved. Applying to multiple schools can be a costly endeavor, so it’s essential to evaluate your financial situation and make a plan.
Application fees can add up quickly
One important financial factor to consider is the cost of application fees. These fees can vary widely from school to school and can quickly add up if you’re applying to multiple programs. It’s a good idea to research the application fees for each school you’re considering and factor this into your decision-making process.
Don’t forget to also consider the cost of sending official transcripts and test scores, as these expenses can also contribute to the overall cost of applying.
Compare costs of attendance across schools
Another important financial consideration is the cost of attendance at each school. Tuition and fees can vary significantly between institutions, so it’s worthwhile to compare the costs across the programs you’re interested in.
Keep in mind that the cost of living in different areas can also impact your overall expenses. Websites like College Board provide comprehensive data on the average cost of attendance at universities across the country, which can help you make an informed decision.
Evaluate financial aid and scholarship options
Before making a decision on how many grad schools to apply to, take the time to explore the financial aid and scholarship options available at each institution. Some schools may offer generous financial aid packages or scholarships that can significantly reduce your out-of-pocket expenses.
Research the scholarships and grants offered by each school and determine if you meet the eligibility criteria. Additionally, consider reaching out to the financial aid offices at the schools you’re interested in to gather more information about the assistance they provide.
Have a plan to pay for applications and deposits
Lastly, it’s essential to have a plan in place to cover the costs of your applications and any required deposits. Set aside a budget specifically for these expenses, and be proactive in saving money or seeking financial assistance if needed.
Planning ahead will help ensure that you can afford to apply to the number of grad schools that align with your goals and aspirations.
Manage the Demands of Multiple Applications
Create a spreadsheet to track deadlines and requirements
When applying to multiple graduate schools, it’s crucial to stay organized. One effective way to manage the demands of multiple applications is by creating a spreadsheet to track deadlines and requirements.
This will help you stay on top of each application’s specific deadlines, required documents, and any additional materials needed. By having all the information in one place, you can ensure that you don’t miss any important deadlines or forget to submit necessary documents.
Additionally, a spreadsheet can help you prioritize your tasks and allocate your time effectively.
Start application tasks early, especially essays
One common mistake that applicants make is waiting until the last minute to start working on their applications. This can lead to unnecessary stress and potentially subpar applications. To manage the demands of multiple applications, it’s important to start early, especially when it comes to writing essays.
Take the time to brainstorm ideas, outline your essays, and revise them multiple times. Starting early will give you the opportunity to seek feedback from mentors, professors, or writing centers, which can greatly improve the quality of your essays.
Request transcripts and recommendation letters in advance
Another important aspect of managing multiple applications is ensuring that you have all the necessary documents ready. Requesting transcripts and recommendation letters in advance is crucial to avoid any last-minute rush.
Make sure to communicate with your university or institution’s registrar office and professors well ahead of time to ensure that these documents are sent out in a timely manner. By requesting these items early, you can minimize the chances of any delays or missing documents that could negatively impact your applications.
Take extra time to tailor each application
While it may be tempting to reuse the same application materials for multiple schools, taking the time to tailor each application can greatly increase your chances of success. Research each school thoroughly and understand their specific program requirements and values.
Use this information to customize your essays, highlighting how your goals align with the program and how you can contribute to the school’s community. Taking the extra time to tailor each application shows your genuine interest and dedication, which can impress admissions committees.
Managing the demands of multiple graduate school applications can be challenging, but with proper organization and planning, you can navigate the process successfully. Remember to create a spreadsheet to track deadlines and requirements, start application tasks early (especially essays), request transcripts and recommendation letters in advance, and take the extra time to tailor each application.
By following these tips, you’ll be well-prepared to handle multiple applications and increase your chances of getting accepted into your dream graduate program.
When to Apply to More or Fewer Schools
Deciding how many graduate schools to apply to can be a difficult decision. It’s important to strike a balance between exploring multiple options and managing the application process effectively. Here are some factors to consider when deciding whether to apply to more or fewer schools:
Add more reach/target schools if your qualifications are borderline
If your qualifications are borderline for your desired graduate program, it may be a good idea to apply to more reach or target schools. These schools can provide opportunities for you to showcase your potential and increase your chances of acceptance.
Additionally, the more schools you apply to, the greater the likelihood of receiving multiple offers, allowing you to compare and choose the best fit for you.
Consider more safeties if you need funding options
If you are in need of funding options, it may be beneficial to apply to more safety schools. These schools typically have higher acceptance rates and may offer more financial aid opportunities. By applying to a wider range of schools, you increase your chances of receiving funding and have more options to choose from.
Apply to fewer schools if you have significant financial constraints
If you have significant financial constraints, it may be wise to limit the number of schools you apply to. The application process can be expensive, with fees ranging from $50 to $100 or more per school. Additionally, visiting multiple schools for interviews can also be costly.
By applying to fewer schools, you can save money and focus your resources on those institutions that are the best fit for your academic and financial needs.
Ultimately, the number of graduate schools you should apply to depends on your individual circumstances and preferences. It’s important to carefully consider your qualifications, funding needs, and financial constraints before making a decision.
Remember, it’s better to apply to a range of schools to increase your chances of acceptance and find the best fit for your future academic and career goals.
Applying to graduate school can be a drawn-out and stressful process. But following the strategies above will help you determine an optimal and realistic number of programs to target based on your profile and needs.
Aim for a balanced mix of ambition and practicality as you put together your application list. With thorough research, honest self-reflection, strategic prioritization, and proactive planning, you’ll be on your way to crafting a strong graduate school application portfolio.