Should I List the Other Schools I’m Applying to in My Application?

Aug 22, 2023

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By ProFellow Founder Dr. Vicki Johnson

Every year in my Fully Funded Course and Mentorship Program for graduate school applicants, some students inquire: How should I respond when graduate schools ask me what other universities I am applying to? In an effort to be transparent and complete the application appropriately, some students complete this section with a detailed list. Others leave it blank. I usually encourage applicants not to leave any “optional” questions unanswered, but there are a few exceptions to this rule – this example is one of them! In this article, I share how you should respond to a question about the other graduate schools you are applying to, and why. 

Why Schools Ask You to List Your Other Applications

There are two primary reasons why graduate schools ask you to reveal the other schools you are applying to. First, they want to keep a pulse on who their competitors are. While schools are certain to know of the other established competitor graduate programs in the discipline, graduate schools’ popularity can change and new graduate programs are cropping up all the time. Selection committees may be keeping tabs on whether students are applying to schools in specific geographic regions, as well as online programs. This information can inform how they market themselves and keep their programming competitive, which is good news for the candidates who are investing in these programs. 

The second primary reason is more problematic. Although few schools will readily admit this, Admissions may ask about your other applications to draw conclusions about the likelihood of you accepting their offer over other schools. If you are a top candidate applying to other more prestigious or fully funded graduate programs, this may influence whether they accept you at all. Likewise, this information can influence the size of your funding offer, for better or worse. It’s difficult to say how often this information influences an acceptance or rejection, or a funding package, but it’s better for candidates not to put themselves in this position if they can avoid it!

How You Should Respond if a University Asks What Schools You Applied To

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Code of Ethics and Professional Practices advises universities not to ask applicants to share their college preferences or targets in applications or interviews, particularly if this information will influence their decision or financial aid offers. So if a university asks this question despite the ethics guidelines, it is certainly your prerogative to decline to respond. The real question is: is no response in your best self-interest? 

I advise against leaving this question blank because you could use this opportunity to provide information that might strengthen your candidacy. You do not need to list any other schools specifically. Instead, provide an honest but vague response that indicates you are applying to other graduate schools and highlight the reasons you are applying to this particular program. 

The strategic goal of your response is to show you are serious about attending graduate school and help the school feel confident that you will accept their offer if they give you one. By emphasizing why you are applying to their school, using specific reasons, you’ll send the message you are a serious applicant and would accept an offer. If the school is your top choice among other programs you are applying to, be sure to include this!

A Template Response to: Where Else Are You Applying? 

If you wish to follow my guidance to be vague but accurate in your response, try this template:  

“I am applying to a diverse range of PhD [or Master’s] programs in [enter your discipline(s)] because I am seeking the best fit for my research interests and academic goals. Among the schools I am applying to, your graduate program stands out due to its strong emphasis on [enter research field], as well as [enter other 2-3 specific points that make this program a top choice]. Thank you for your consideration.”

Most schools desire brief responses to questions like these so I advise not making this response too long. Also, do not copy word-for-word from your personal statement or statement of purpose essays; summarization is better. 

What if I am Only Applying to One School?

If you are only applying to one school, I recommend against revealing this in your application. There may be a number of legitimate reasons why you are only applying to one school, including an inability to relocate. However, serious candidates apply to multiple graduate schools to increase their chances of success. An application to one program could cause a selection committee to assume you are not that serious about pursuing a graduate degree, or that you prepared your application at the last minute. Also, if they do accept you, they will have less reason to offer you their most generous funding offer. Instead of using the words “I am applying to a diverse range…”, start with the phrase “I am considering a diverse range…” and write a similar response based on the template provided above.

Best wishes, the ProFellow community is rooting for your success!

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