How Many PhD Programs Should I Apply To?

Graduation hat and robes on a desk

So, you are ready to take the next big step in your educational journey, doctorate! Applying to PhD programs can be stressful, time-consuming, and costly, so for this reason, you will need to carefully consider how many PhD programs to apply to before starting the process. In today’s guide, we will examine some different factors to think about and help you decide on how many PhD program applications are right for you!

Factors to Consider When Applying to PhD Programs

Before we get started, it is important to note that we highly recommend applying to more than one PhD program. If you only apply to one program and get rejected, you will likely have to wait for the next application cycle to apply. Instead, consider applying to, at the very least, two different programs to substantially increase your chances of receiving an acceptance letter.

Now, let’s take a closer look at some important considerations when deciding how many PhD programs to apply to:

  • Research – What sets a PhD program apart from a Masters program is the research. As a PhD student, you will be heavily involved in the research your university faculty specialize in, and you want to find programs that align with you and your interests. When applying, only choose programs that have faculty within your field of study that are researching topics you want to be a part of, and make sure they are accepting applicants to mentor before applying. Do not waste your time on programs that fail to align with you and your interests.
  • Budget – Most PhD programs require you to pay a fee to apply. This fee typically falls somewhere between $50 and $100, though some can exceed $200. That said, most PhD programs do not want an applicant’s financial status to deter them from applying to a program that would be a potentially great fit. While it’s important to consider how many schools you can afford to apply to, you should reach out to schools to inquire about the possibility of receiving an application fee waiver before you strike programs that are good fits from your list. Before applying, consider your budget and options and find a number that fits comfortably within your financial means.
  • Competition – Some PhD programs are more competitive than others. For example, chemistry and clinical psychology are two fields of study that tend to be very popular and competitive. As a result, you may need to apply to more programs to ensure success with at least one of your applications.
  • Time & Effort – People often forget that PhD program applications are no walk in the park. You will need to fill out a lot of paperwork, write your essays, get recommendation letters, prepare for and take test(s), write and polish your CV, and possibly communicate directly with potential advisors. This requires hours of work for each and every application. Determine how much time you can realistically dedicate to applying to PhD programs and decide how many applications you can comfortably complete in that time frame. Remember, things tend to take longer than expected, so don’t leave yourself burnt out and stressed out around deadline time.
  • Application Requirements – Some PhD programs have different requirements than others. For this reason, it is vital that you do your research on different programs to make sure that you meet the requirements and have the necessary paperwork on hand before you apply. After researching some of your top choices, you may find that you are limited to just a few schools. While this may seem disheartening at first, it will actually make the application process easier by ensuring that you only have to apply to a set number of programs.

How Many PhD Programs Should I Apply To?

The truth is that there is no magic number that will be applicable to everyone. That said, the “average” range is five to eight different PhD programs. You will still need to consider all of the factors outlined above. For some applicants, two applications may be sufficient, but for others, more than eight applications may be necessary. While it is tempting to apply to as many schools as possible to increase your chances of admittance, remember that a PhD program is not your final destination but a step in a longer journey. It is highly unlikely that there are more than 15 PhD programs that are a very good fit for any single candidate. Ultimately, it will come down to your individual circumstances.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question at hand. Applying to PhD programs is a process not without challenges, but the time and energy you invest in determining a short list of schools that will give you the best ability to realize your career ambitions is one that will pay off handsomely.

[crp limit=”4″ post_thumb_op=”after”]


  • Matthew Jones

    Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his personal website!

No comments yet.

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will only approve comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! 😄 Due to the high volume of comments across all of our blogs, we cannot promise that all comments will receive responses from our instructors.

We highly encourage students to help each other out and respond to other students' comments if you can!

If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service from our instructors, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.