Assessing Your Chances

The trick to assessing your chances of getting into a particular graduate program is to know where you stand with regard to the various factors that programs consider when making admissions decisions. A good way to do this is to create a fact sheet with your GRE scores (or projected scores), overall GPA, and GPA in your major (and minor, if applicable). Relevant outside activities, work experience, internships, publications, etc. will also contribute to the overall strength of your application.

Look at Objective Factors

The next step is to find a current source of information about graduate programs. There are several guides and online databases published every year that provide rankings of schools, as well as data about acceptance rates and average GPA and GRE scores. In addition, some rank schools according to their reputations among students, professors, or prominent people in the field.

Put your GRE score and GPA alongside the average numbers of schools that interest you. The comparison will give you a rough idea of where you stand. But remember, GRE and GPA are not the only criteria for admissions. Many other factors like recommendations and "intangibles" like activities and relevant experience can factor prominently into the admissions equation. Once you have some idea of where you fall in the applicant pool, you can begin to make decisions about your application strategy.

Determine Your Grad School Application Strategy

A sensible application strategy will include schools in three general categories:

  • Dream schools—places you'd love to attend, but where your chances of acceptance are up in the air or even unlikely
  • Good possibilities—programs you'd like to attend and where your grades and GRE score are close to the median
  • Safeties—schools where your numbers make acceptance highly likely

Most prospective grad students apply to between four and seven schools. How many you should actually apply to, though, is best determined by your strength as an applicant, the difficulty of admission at schools to where you're applying, and the general difficulty of getting into any program in your discipline.

If you're applying to five or six grad schools, pick a couple of dream schools, a couple in the "likely" category, and one or two safeties.