How many grad schools should I apply to? [Insider secrets]

Contemplating how many grad schools to apply to can be as daunting as the application process itself.

Adopting a strategic approach to your grad school applications can significantly increase your chances of acceptance. This post offers inside secrets into navigating the graduate school application conundrum.

It explores a range of pertinent topics including identifying suitable schools and advisors, crafting compelling personal statements, understanding the GRE or GMAT requirements, and weighing the costs of application fees against potential outcomes.

The post also delves into the realities of early and rolling admissions, and the importance of preparation and emotional resilience. Let’s demystify the graduate school application process together.

Should I Apply to More Than One Grad School?

When considering graduate school applications, a strategic approach can significantly increase your chances of acceptance.

I certainly advise not limiting yourself to one graduate program.

This involves identifying potential schools and advisors aligned with your research interests and then casting your net widely. Apply to as many schools as you can that match what you are looking for in terms of:

  1. Supervisor’s credentials and experience
  2. Schools’ prestige and potential networking opportunities
  3. Your own research and academic interests
  4. The facilities at the university
  5. Degree style and length

Although each application requires effort, personalization, and care, engaging with multiple opportunities allows for a higher possibility of successful admission. 

Applying to more than one school increases your chances of gaining admission, and it also provides you with options in case your particular school of choice doesn’t work out. You can never know if a particular school will take you or not – so you need to play it smart and apply for as many as you can (that fit your requirements)

There’s nothing wrong with having one dream school, but it’s important to remember that admission to grad school is competitive, and having a backup plan can be helpful.

Additionally, applying to more than one school can give you some leverage when it comes to negotiating financial aid or scholarship offers.

How Many Grad Schools Programs Should I Apply To?

This is a difficult question to answer definitively because there is no one-size-fits-all formula.

However, applying to too many grad schools can be a waste of time and money. The application strategy depends on the type of degree you are applying for too.

Degree TypeApplication Strategy
Master’sApply to 3-8 schools. Consider the various factors that can affect your chances of acceptance, such as GPA, test scores, work experience, and personal statement. Applying to multiple schools can increase your chances of acceptance and cater to the unpredictability of the admission process.
PhDStart by creating a broad list of potential advisors, up to 100, relevant to your research interest. Send out personalized emails, expecting a low response rate (2-10%). Cultivate relationships and assess research opportunities from the responses. This could narrow down your prospective universities to about 10. Apply to these institutions, ensuring you meet each program’s specific criteria. This targeted approach can increase your chances of finding the right fit, rather than focusing on a set number of applications.

If you are applying for a master’s degree anywhere between 3 and 8 schools can help significantly increase your chances of success. 

If you are applying for a PhD I suggest that instead of focusing on a set number of applications, build an application funnel.

Start with a broad list of potential advisors, perhaps as many as 100, relevant to your research interest.

Then, send out personalized emails to each, expecting a low response rate (maybe 2-10%).

From the responses, cultivate relationships and assess research opportunities.

This could narrow down your prospective universities to about 10. Apply to these institutions, ensuring you meet each program’s specific criteria. This targeted approach maximizes your chances of finding the right fit.

Here’s a video that I made that may be helpful for you:

The admission process can be unpredictable, and it’s worth noting that there are various factors that can affect one’s admission chances, such as GPA, test scores, work experience, and personal statement, so applying to multiple grad schools can increase one’s chances of acceptance. 

What GRE Score Do You Need for a graduate program?

The GRE is an important aspect of admission to a graduate program.

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score requirements for graduate school admissions vary significantly based on the school and the program you’re interested in. In general, scores are evaluated alongside a variety of other factors such as undergraduate GPA, letters of recommendation, research experience, and personal statements.

However, to give you a rough idea:

  1. Verbal Reasoning: Scores for many programs fall in the 150-160 range. For more competitive programs, especially in the humanities and social sciences, scores may need to be in the high 150s or even the 160s.
  2. Quantitative Reasoning: Scores for many programs again fall in the 150-160 range. For more competitive programs, particularly in fields like engineering or physics, scores may need to be in the high 160s.
  3. Analytical Writing: Scores above 4.0 are generally considered good. For more competitive programs, a score of 4.5 or above may be required.

It’s important to research the specific requirements of the programs you’re interested in. Some programs might not require the GRE at all, while others might place a heavier emphasis on certain sections based on the area of study.

Remember, your GRE score is just one component of your application. Schools look at the whole package – your GPA, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and relevant experience also play a crucial role in the admission process.

How hard is it to get into grad school?

Getting into grad school can be a tough process that often requires more effort and dedication than the undergraduate admissions process.

Many admission committees look at a candidate’s GPA as the first point of evaluation.

A high GPA is advantageous, but it is not always the sole deciding factor in the application process.

Other factors such as:

  1. research experience,
  2. work experience,
  3. and personal statements could also be considered.

It’s important to note that each graduate program and school have their own specific requirements, so it’s necessary to research and read up on the schools you apply to.

Applying to grad school means prioritizing your strengths and ensuring that your application showcases them. It’s also important to take preparation for the various aspects of the grad school admissions process seriously. 

If you want to know more about how how grad school is check out my article:

How Long Do Graduate Admissions Decisions Take?

The time it takes for a graduate school to make its admissions decision varies depending on several factors. These factors include the school itself, the method of application, and when you submit your application.

  1. Early Action: If you apply through early action, which requires you to apply by the school’s early deadline, you should hear back earlier. The response could come anywhere from mid-December to the end of January, depending on the school.
  2. Early Decision: Similar to early action, early decision applications are submitted early and receive a response early. However, this type of application is binding, meaning if you’re accepted, you’re expected to attend that school.
  3. Regular Decision: If you apply via regular decision, even if you submit your application early (in September or October), you may not hear back until February or March.
  4. Rolling Admission: Schools with rolling admission assess applications as they come in and make decisions on a continual basis. If you apply in September or early October, you could receive a decision as early as the end of October.

However, it’s important to note that many schools will list their decision release dates on their websites, but some may not to avoid being tied to a specific date. They may need to extend these dates if they receive an unexpectedly large number of applications.

What to do while waiting for your decision:

  1. Emotionally Budget for Rejection: It’s essential to prepare yourself for the possibility of rejection. The waiting period after submitting applications can be stressful, but constant worry won’t influence the outcome. Instead, make a plan for what you will do if you don’t get accepted. This could include exploring other programs, considering work options, or researching additional educational opportunities.
  2. Prepare for the Interview: It’s never too early to start preparing for potential interviews. Review common questions, practice your responses, and ensure that you understand your motivations and goals for pursuing higher education. Be prepared to demonstrate your knowledge of the specific programs you’ve applied to and how they align with your career objectives.
  3. Continue Building Your Portfolio and Network: Keep working on gaining relevant experiences and developing your professional network. Pursue opportunities for publication, seek out personal connections, and consider presenting at academic conferences. These activities may not directly influence the outcome of applications you’ve already submitted, but they can enrich your profile for future applications, help establish personal connections, and potentially provide talking points in interviews.
  4. Stay Active and Engaged: Don’t halt your academic and professional development as you wait for responses. Keep up-to-date with your field of interest, participate in relevant activities, and stay involved in your current work or academic commitments. This can help you stay focused and motivated, and it also demonstrates your dedication to your field.
  5. Plan for Different Outcomes: It’s important to consider the different scenarios that could unfold. What will you do if you get accepted into one, some, or all of the programs you applied to? How will you decide which offer to accept? What will you do if you do not receive any offers? Having a game plan for each scenario can help reduce anxiety and uncertainty.

Wrapping up

The journey to finding the right grad program may appear daunting, but with a strategic approach to your grad school application, you can navigate the application waters smoothly.

Deciding how many schools you should apply to depends on factors like your specific goals, your list of schools, and the degree you seek.

The right number of applications is not set in stone, it varies depending on the student and the program’s unique requirements. Conduct research, understand application requirements, and aim to apply to several schools—including safety, target, and dream schools.

Be sure to carefully craft each application you submit, including a compelling personal statement and strong letters of recommendation.

Applying to multiple graduate programs increases your chances of acceptance and provides options in the highly competitive grad school admissions landscape. 

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.