How Many PhD Programs Should I Apply to Now? — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
8 min readMar 9, 2023

Are you an ambitious student lying in bed at night asking yourself: “how many PhD programs should I apply to this year?” We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom — “it never hurts to try, so the more applications you submit, the better!” But is that really true? Did you know that selecting the ideal amount of doctoral programs is a lot more intricate than one may think? It requires careful consideration to determine which option will be most beneficial.

In this blog post, we’ll dig into some of the questions surrounding the number of PhD applications to consider and give you our advice on creating a sound application plan. So if your goal is to get ahead in 2023 and get admitted into the best possible PhD program, read on!

What you need to consider before applying to PhD Programs

Before we move forward with our answer to the important “how many PhD programs should I apply to” question, it is important to point out that you should always apply for more than just one PhD program. If you receive a rejection on your initial application, having an alternative option can be helpful. This way, there’s no waiting period while the next cycle starts up again.

As you carefully consider all of your PhD program options, take into account these essential points:

Fit is everything

Unlike a master’s program, the research you will be doing as part of your PhD is one of the defining aspects that make it stand out. It is important to find a university with faculty whose research aligns with yours and your interests to get the most out of the experience. Before you apply, ensure that the programs you are considering have faculty in your field of study researching topics that appeal to you. Don’t invest time into any program that fails to align with your interests just for the sake of numbers — it’s simply not worth it!

Cost

If you’re asking yourself “how many PhD programs should I apply to”, keep in mind that applying for a PhD can be expensive, with many programs charging between $50 and $200 in application fees. When creating your school list, it’s essential to consider how many applications you can reasonably afford. Still, it’s important to remember that most institutions don’t want an applicant’s financial situation to prevent them from applying if they are the right fit for their program. Before knocking any programs off your list, make sure to contact them about potential application fee waivers that may be available.

(Would you like to know what PhD admissions committees are looking for? Watch this quick video to find out key elements to highlight in an application)

Selectivity

Certain PhD programs can be more selective than others. Therefore, it may be necessary for you to submit applications to a variety of universities to increase your chances of success with at least one program.

So to find an answer to the “how many PhD programs should I apply to” question, you must consider the different tiers of schools you include on your list. A wise strategy is to come up with a list based on your chances of getting admitted into a program. Don’t let the fear of rejection prevent you from applying to your dream school; we’ve seen many people achieve success in these situations. However, it is also wise to diversify your selection and include programs where getting admitted are more likely — that way, if you don’t get into a prestigious program, then there are still other options available! To put it simply, prioritizing selectivity will lead to a greater variety.

Stamina

Applying to a PhD program is far from simple. You must carefully craft your CV, write compelling essays, submit all the necessary paperwork and tests (if applicable), gather recommendation letters, and reach out to potential advisors — each step requires focused attention for you to maximize your odds of success. Before embarking on your PhD expedition, plan in advance and make sure to allot enough time for the application process. By doing so, you can ensure that it proceeds without any hiccups or delays. Map out a timetable that indicates which applications must be done by when — but always give yourself some extra breathing room as things can sometimes take longer than expected. Don’t exhaust yourself or get caught in stress before crucial deadlines — there’s no need to rush it all at once.

How many pieces will be involved

Before applying for a PhD program, you must invest the necessary time and effort into researching each school’s application criteria. Taking care to thoroughly assess every detail when conducting research will guarantee that all criteria are met and paperwork is prepared for submission prior to the approaching due date. Doing your due diligence beforehand can make the entire application process much smoother. After researching your top choices, you may be left with only a few schools to apply for — but don’t let this discourage you! This is simply the process of ensuring that you are applying for programs best suited to fulfill your needs and goals. Although it may seem overwhelming in the beginning, limiting your applications will make the application process much simpler considering you have fewer tasks to complete.

How Many PhD Programs Should I Apply To?

So what is the answer to the million-dollar “How many Ph.D. programs should I apply to” question? Though some aspects cannot be changed — such as the sheer number or backgrounds of applicants — don’t let this keep you from making yourself shine in your application. Demonstrate why you are extraordinary and take advantage of this incredible opportunity. Maximize your chances of getting admitted by submitting applications to approximately ten programs and prioritizing them according to the strength of your credentials relative to those departments. Making an informed decision can be difficult, so try leaning on mentors for input. Choosing a path that works for you can be difficult, especially without the assistance of qualified professionals. It’s well worth your while to consult an expert; ultimately, it’ll benefit you in the long run.

PhD Application Timeline

You should begin preparing for multiple PhD applications at least six to eight months before the application deadline. During this time, you can focus on refining you CV and statement of purpose, gathering letters of recommendation from professors who know you best and reaching out to potential PhD advisors in your field of study. Investing your time to research universities and programs that match up with your ambitions is essential, guaranteeing you’ll be prepared when it’s time to submit applications. Finally, you should also look into fellowship or scholarship opportunities that could help fund your studies if admitted into a program that does not provide full funding. Ultimately, by taking the proper steps early on and devoting adequate time to researching potential universities and resources available, you can increase your chances of success in your pursuit of a PhD.

The More Program You Apply to the Longer The Application Process will be

Crafting a persuasive statement of purpose requires time and dedication. Ideally, you should plan to spend between 10–20 hours over the course of several weeks to properly prepare for the writing process. Through this beneficial practice, you can thoroughly define your research interests, thoughtfully evaluate pivotal experiences and personal attributes, as well as revise and edit multiple times.

You should modify your statement of purpose for each PhD application. It is essential to customize your statement of purpose for each program or school you aim to apply to meet their particular expectations and requirements. Be aware that some programs may have specific requirements when it comes to research and it is important to tailor the research section of your SOP to fit with the research and activities of your target programs to show how you are an ideal candidate. By making sure that your proposed project meets the research profile of the university, you will demonstrate your dedication and enthusiasm for furthering your career in this field.

Additionally, make sure to provide examples demonstrating how your academic background, research interests, work experience, and extracurricular activities have equipped you with the skills necessary to make significant contributions within the field you are applying to. While writing a statement of purpose for each PhD program you apply to can be quite time-consuming, taking the time and effort to ensure that your statement of purpose is tailored to each specific PhD program will greatly increase your chances of being admitted to the schools you have your heart set on.

As you diligently pursue your goal of applying to several PhD programs, don’t forget to prioritize self-care. It can be an intense and stressful journey, so ensure that you set aside some time for relaxation or indulge in comforting activities every once in a while. Investing in yourself through self-care is essential to achieving your goals and thriving on your path forward.! Focus on building a strong support system and seek out advice from mentors, family members, or friends when needed. Talking through the process with someone can provide essential guidance to help reduce any stress you may experience. All in all, applying for multiple PhD programs necessitates commitment and organization; however if effectively planned it will become an enjoyable journey toward achieving your ambitions!

The Bottom Line

To sum it all up, the answer to the question “How many PhD programs should I apply to in 2023?” is a personal one that depends on your academic and career goals. Our best advice is to carefully consider each program you’re interested in and develop a tailored plan of how many will be ideal for your application package. Do the necessary research, take guidance from those who can help you, create opportunities for yourself, and use this as an opportunity for growth. Let 2023 be the year when you make strides in reaching your educational goals with a perfect application!

And last but not least, if at any point you need help navigating this process, we’ve got your back! From developing research statements to interviews — and everything in between — The Admit Lab offers you guidance every step of the way. So if you’re determined to make the most of your PhD application journey by getting tidbits from us, hop over to our website and check out our PhD application services today!

With a Master’s from McGill University and a PhD from New York University,Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and PhD programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on March 9, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/