How Many Grad Schools Should You Apply To?

When I started my grad school experience, one of the first things I asked myself was “how many schools should I apply to?” I knew that I wanted to attend a school in Florida, but didn’t know if I should put all my eggs in one basket or reach out for more chances. Determining how many colleges to apply for can be tricky because you don’t want to spend hours writing statements of purpose for 10 colleges. But, at the same time, you want to make sure you have a chance to get into at least one college. If you are looking at how many grad schools top apply for, you came to the right place.

How Many Grad Schools Should you Apply To

First, what do you want?

You need to start off by asking yourself, “why am I going to grad school?” and “what grad school program is right for me?” Once you answer those questions, you need to start looking for programs that focus on what you want to learn. For me, I wanted to get a PhD in Environmental Engineering, so I looked at the best programs in Florida. I saw that UF, USF, and UM were all great colleges to apply for. I aimed for 3 colleges, but you can apply for much more, if you want.

When deciding what colleges to apply for, you need to split up the colleges into categories. The GradCafe has a really good way to decide how to split the colleges up. They say to divide them into 3 categories. 1) Your Dream School 2) Target School 3) Safety school. This is an excellent way to make sure you cover all bases and get into a program. If you want to read more about their recommendation, here’s the link.

I highly suggest following this method. Apply to the very best school for your program. This is the “dream school” approach. If you are an engineer, maybe apply for MIT or another really good engineering school. You might get in.

Next, apply for colleges in the “target school” category. These are colleges that are absolute perfect matches for you regarding average test scores, GPAs , and such. These are usually really good schools as well and definitely ones to focus on.

Lastly, apply to some “safety schools”. These schools are schools that have the degree that you want and are a guarantee to get into. They might be the most prestigious schools, but at least they will guarantee that you do go to grad school. Also, these schools may surprise you an be school for you.

Yellow Red Blue and Purple Letter Stickers

What is a good number of grad schools to apply to?

I will not say “It depends”. I will, however, give you a range to go for. The sweet spot, that I would suggest, is to apply to a minimum of 3 schools and a maximum or 6. This does many purposes which I will go into later. If you just apply to one school, you better know that you are going to get in. If you apply to too many schools, you will go crazy with applications, letters of recommendations, as well as fees. Don’t go broke trying to pay for application fees. Trust me, it is totally possible.

Why 3 as a Minimum?

Well, three is a good number because it forces you to decide the top three institutions that will help you achieve your goals. Ultimately three allows you to find your dream school and the second and third best. You don’t want to have your dream school then two very low tiered colleges after that. No, the top three should be reputable schools, that focus on the topic that you want to study. Having less than three colleges to apply for can be scary because you run the risk of potentially not getting into them. Colleges can be really picky, especially when it comes to grad students, so you need a few more than one or two colleges to apply to. Also, with three colleges, you can cover all three categories that were described above. You can get an application in for a dream school, your target school, and a safety school.

Why 6 as a Maximum?

There are a few sites which may say apply to upwards of 8 or 9 schools. This is a crazy amount of grad school programs to apply to. 6 might even be pushing it, but it gives you a serious safety net. Now in these 6 applications, separate the colleges into those three categories I talked about. A good plan is to apply for 1 really good school that is your dream school, 3 applications to target schools, and 2 applications for safety schools. I would highly suggest focusing on target schools as they will be higher quality programs. the more applications in that category, the better.

Don’t go too high or it will cost you.

The average cost of a grad school application is $60 . That is insane! Some colleges can be well over $100 in fees. If we do the math eq. Average payment x number of applications, we get $60*3=$180 or upper range $60*6=$360. That’s a ton of money upfront. Luckily, many programs do give application waivers. I would highly suggest looking into getting your application paid for so you don’t have to break the bank applying for a grad school program.

Person Holding 100 Us Dollar Banknotes

Final Thoughts

For me, I would suggest applying to 3 to 6 colleges for grad school. I have known people to apply for a lot more than that and I know people that only applied for one college. It is really up to you. Sometimes, you know you will get into a school and applying to just that one school is enough. Sometimes, you may just have to get into a program, so you apply to every college in the US lol. It is really totally up to you.

For me, I applied to 3 schools and only got into one. UF was my target school so I was happy to get into it, but I was close to not getting in to any grad schools. I was just very fortunate in this case.

For those applying to grad school, how many colleges are you applying for or how many grad schools did you apply to? I am curious to know what other people do and I am sure many other people would like to know as well.

As always, I hope you all have a wonderful day and a wonderful week. If you haven’t already, go check out my blog about habits for grad school this year (link here).