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How Many Grad Schools Should I Apply To?

We go over how many grad schools you should apply for as a PhD student, and what factors you should consider when choosing schools.

Jan 5, 2024
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How many grad schools should i apply to? - Prospective students discussing

✨ 5-second summary

  • You should apply for 6-12 programs, but keep in mind that quality matters more than quantity.
  • It's important to apply to a mix of reach, match, and safety schools to balance aspirations with a safety net.
  • Factors that affect the number of applications include research interests, field competitiveness, and funding methods.

Applying for a PhD involves crucial decisions, and one of the most important questions you should ask yourself is "how many grad schools should I apply to?" This decision can significantly impact your academic and professional future. We'll guide you on how to make an informed decision.

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How many grad schools should you apply to?

You should apply for 12 PhD programs.

Our interview with the Director of Master's Marketing and Enrolment from Boston University, Mark Khan, revealed that students apply for 7-10 schools on average, but it's better to be on the safe side.

However, it's important to clarify that your success will depend less on the quantity, and more on the quality of your application(s), as well as the strategy you employ in choosing grad schools.

You should apply for a mix of reach, match, and safety schools to balance aspirations with a safety net.

  • Reach schools: Highly competitive programs where you're unlikely to get admitted.
  • Match schools: Programs where you have a good chance of being accepted.
  • Safety schools: Programs where your credentials are well above the average applicant. These are backups in case the other two fail.

💡 Note: if you plan on applying to several programs at the same school, make sure to look out for any limits on the number of applications you can submit to that school. For example, some Harvard schools only allow 3 applications per candidate.

Factors that impact the total number of applications

The broadness of your research interests

If your research interests are very niche, for example in the areas of classical studies or educational leadership, you'll most likely have a smaller pool of programs to choose from. On the other hand, if your interests are a bit more broad, then you'll have more diversity in type and number of options.

It's important that you align your research interests with the right program. Carefully evaluate which programs best fit your academic and career objectives, and then pursue them.

Competitiveness of the field

Different disciplines and schools have varying levels of competitiveness.

For example, California Institute of Technology and Harvard University had the lowest acceptance rates in the fall of 2022, at only 3%. This means that, if you're aiming for more competitive schools or programs, you'll have to submit more applications.

Similarly, some fields, such as clinical psychology, have lower acceptance rates than others, which translates into a potentially higher number of applications necessary to get accepted.

Funding methods

Funded PhD programs tend to be a lot more competitive and restrictive than the self-funded ones.

  • Fully or semi funded programs are usually extremely competitive since students from all around the world apply for them.
  • If your studies are either self-funded or funded by your employer, you might be able to get a spot more easily.

Things to keep in mind when applying

  • Consider application costs. Applying to multiple programs can be costly. When you're planning which schools to apply for, factor in application fees, standardized test fees (if required), and other expenses associated with the application process.
  • Don't forget about the deadlines. Make sure to dedicate enough time to polishing your resume/CV, motivation letter and other supplementary documents, and adapting them to the specific programs or schools. Missing deadlines can result in automatic disqualification, so make sure to give yourself ample time to prepare.
  • Prioritize quality over quantity. You might be tempted to cast a wide net to maximize your chances of being accepted, but remember that PhD studies are very serious, and that you should take your application just as seriously.

Bottom line

While there's no universal guidance on what's an appropriate number of applications for PhD, it's a good idea to play on the safe side and plan to apply for 6-12 programs.

Some people might need more, some less, but the average number of grad school applications are 7-10 according to our interview with an industry expert.

Sara Evans


Sara is the Content Designer at Keystone Academic Solutions, in charge of creating and curating content for students across the globe. Due to her background in UX and teaching, she's always in pursuit of new ways of presenting information more clearly.

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