How Many Grad Schools Should I Apply To?

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If you’re thinking about going back to school, you might be wondering, “How many grad schools should I apply to?”

How Many Grad Schools Should I Apply to

Everyone’s situation is different, but it’s often strategic to consider a balanced approach. Applying to too few schools could bog down your admissions process, but pursuing too many could quickly turn into an overwhelming task.

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Once you understand the ins and outs of grad school applications, you can better determine the right number of schools for you to apply to.

How Many Grad Schools Should I Apply To?

Think about your potential schools as falling into three different categories: dream schools, target schools, and safety schools. Applying to 6 colleges from among those categories can help you feel confident about your application plans.

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As you compile your application list, you may want to select around 2 colleges from each of these categories.

Dream Schools

Grad school dream school

Your dream schools are the ones you’d attend if every door were thrown wide open for you, neither money nor academics standing in the way.

If your test scores and GPA are lower than those of the average applicant, there’s a chance that something about your application packet might catch the admission committee’s eye.

The school might be expensive, but a robust financial aid package might help bridge the gap between the sticker price and your budget. When it comes down to it, you may or may not be able to attend your dream schools, but it never hurts to try.

Target Schools

Grad schools target schools

A graduate program that seems tailor-made for someone of your caliber can be considered a target school.

To figure out which colleges might fall into your target category, you can take a look at facts and figures for the classes they’ve recently admitted. You can narrow in on the ones where the average GPAs and test scores are right on par with your own. While you can’t be certain that you’ll get into these schools, you may have a decent chance.

Safety Schools

To round out your selections, it’s strategic to pick a few safety schools that you’re fairly likely to be granted admission to. Your safety schools should be places where your academic credentials outrank the average. For example, these may be grad schools with low GPA requirements. They may also fit your definition of affordable.

Despite the word “safety” in the name, you shouldn’t feel like you’re settling by ending up at one of these schools. Rather, even these universities should spark a sense of excitement in you.

What to Consider When Choosing a Graduate School

Choosing a Graduate School

Going back to school may feel overwhelming at first. The following tips can provide some guidance as you browse programs, decide where to apply, and submit applications.

1. Cost of the Application

Applying to grad programs costs both time and money. The minutes spent filling out one form after another and writing unique, personalized essays can really add up.

On top of that, it’s common for colleges to request a fee—often $50 to $75—with each application you submit. Going overboard on applications can put a sizeable dent in your wallet. By selecting your schools with care, you can keep your investment of time and money in check.

2. How to Pay for Grad School

Higher education tuition

Higher education isn’t cheap. Not only is there tuition to think about, but you may also need to factor in fees, books, and room and board.

Financial aid can help qualifying students with these expenses. Some colleges may offer you a stipend in exchange for work as a research or teaching assistant. With other graduate programs, your support may be limited to scholarships and government student aid.

3. Reputation and Prestige or Relevance?

A school’s good name may go a long way. Certain programs are at the top of their fields, and a resume that includes such a school may garner more job interviews. A graduate program’s job-placement statistics can give you a feel for how influential it is in this regard.

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On the other hand, a prestigious name isn’t everything. There’s much to be said for selecting a school because it has a program concentration that’s highly relevant to your career goals or faculty members whose research interests align with yours.

4. Curriculum and Accreditation

You may be able to tell by the curriculum list whether a program is a good fit for you. Reading through course offerings, you might spot topics that go right along with what you hope to learn and experience in grad school.

Accreditation is the mark of a reliable university, and the most reputable schools hold regional accreditation.

5. When to Apply for Grad School

Grad School Application

Many colleges have firm cutoff dates for their programs, so you may want to start the process early to make sure you get everything submitted on time.

In general, it’s strategic to start looking at schools and preparing for the GRE or GMAT, if needed, about 2 years before beginning school. Around 12 months ahead of time, you can narrow down your list of schools. Finally, you may want to send in applications about 9 months before you hope to start classes.

Graduate School Requirements

Graduate School Requirements

Your application for grad school should highlight your strengths and experiences that make you a good candidate for a school. You may be required to assemble an application packet that includes materials like the ones below:

  • Curriculum vitae or resume
  • GRE or GMAT scores (if required)
  • Letters of reference
  • Personal essay, which may be open-ended or a response to a specific prompt
  • Transcripts from previous coursework

These are general guidelines, but each school sets its own requirements.

Should I Apply to More Than One Grad School?

Applying to Grad school

It’s usually advisable to apply to several schools. While you might seem like the perfect fit for a particular school, there’s never any guarantee with college admissions. Applying to multiple institutions increases the chances that you’ll get into at least one of them.

You might consider sending applications to at least one dream school, one target school, and one safety school. If time and money allow, doubling that number might increase your admission odds.

Is 10 Grad Schools Too Many?

Applying to 10 graduate schools is more than most students need to do. In general, you can get away with applying to half that many.

It’s strategic and often necessary to customize your application for each school. Filling out 10 different sets of paperwork can be a time-consuming process. Plus, applying to graduate school usually costs money. If you don’t have around $750 to invest in application costs, then you probably won’t want to apply to 10 schools.

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One exception: If you’re determined to attend only a highly selective top-tier school, then submitting 10 stellar applications could increase your chances of being admitted to one or more top schools.

How Many Master’s Programs Should I Apply To?

While there’s no set number of applications that you should submit, a general answer could be “a handful.” For most students, that’s around 6 applications. Sending in more than a couple increases the odds of receiving an acceptance letter.

Keeping your number within reason allows you to invest time and specific effort into each grad school application you send. When your passion for a particular program and what it has to offer clearly comes through in your application, that can work in your favor.

What Do Grad Schools Look For?

Graduate schools students

Graduate schools want students who are academically up to the challenge of advanced coursework. They’re also interested in candidates who are driven and display a strong work ethic.

Your past school transcripts are one way you can demonstrate these characteristics. A high GPA can help set you apart from other candidates. Grades aren’t the only factor at play, though. Your extracurricular activities, volunteer opportunities, and professional experiences may show that you’re well-rounded, enthusiastic, and determined.

How Long Do Graduate Admissions Decisions Take?

How long it takes to get a response often depends on the type of grad school application timeline that a particular college uses.

For schools with rolling admissions, you might not have to wait too long after submitting your paperwork to hear something back. Decisions often arrive within 6 to 8 weeks. It can take longer at schools with firm deadlines because you may have to wait for them to go through all of the applications that they’ve received.

When Do Grad School Acceptance Letters Arrive?

Grad School Acceptance Letters

Colleges with rolling admissions might send out acceptance letters at any time during the year. You may receive a response between 1 and 2 months after turning in your application.

Colleges with specific admissions deadlines often send out notifications during a set time of the year. For colleges with November or December due dates, decision letters may be mailed in February or March. You may want to wait to make your final choice until you’ve heard back from each of your schools.


grad school admissions

The process of grad school admissions may seem long or hard, but getting into a program of your choice can make it well worth the effort. You can try to simplify this season of grad school applications by breaking down the process into steps and keeping your submissions to a manageable number.

To get started, it’s necessary to know what graduate programs are out there. Focusing your attention on regionally accredited institutions helps ensure that you select a college that thoroughly educates its students.

Also, if you have other obligations that take a lot of your time, such as work or family, some universities offer part time graduate school programs that may be worth looking into.

As you begin exploring the vast array of regionally accredited colleges, you can consider which ones would be the best to send your grad school applications to.

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Jordan Meeks
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.