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Is it a problem if two students from the same university with very similar profile (similar number of publications, similar grade range, as well as the same strongest letter writer) apply to the same university for a PhD?

Edit: I have clarified the question in the comments. My main question was that since professors would like to increase diversity of their research groups, would they generally prefer not selecting two equally strong students coming straight from the same undergrad institution in the same year of admission. Also, I am talking about PhD admissions in USA.

  • Are they applying to do the same project? If not, no, there should not be a problem. – GrotesqueSI Oct 31 '19 at 9:11
  • No, what about the other things like hobbies, past experience etc – Solar Mike Oct 31 '19 at 10:03
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    This premise sounds like an inconscious bias experiment... – Emilie Oct 31 '19 at 13:39
  • I guess I should have clarified that the professors with whom both the students are interested in working with are same. Essentially what I wanted to ask is that since professors would like to increase diversity of their research groups, would they generally prefer not selecting two students coming straight from the same undergrad institution in the same year of admissions. – joshinh Oct 31 '19 at 16:46
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    Does this question happen to involve an instance of the two body problem? – Bryan Krause Oct 31 '19 at 18:49
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I assume you are asking if the two are in competition with one another. Yes, of course, but they are also in competition with everyone else who applies. If the pool is large then there will, potentially, be a lot of very similar applications.

It is likely, but not required that they get the same result. Both accepted, or both rejected is more likely than only one accepted. But there is more to admissions than numbers in a spreadsheet and one of the two might be preferred for some reason. Suppose the Fencing Team needs new members, say.

And in a situation in which interviews are used, one of the two could be judged more likely to succeed based on some intangibles of presentation or perceived enthusiasm.

My main point, however, is that, in a good system, everyone is treated as and individual but there is tremendous completion for too few spots.


Specifically with respect to the "desire" for diversity. Not everyone will even have such a desire (worldwide). In some places there are strict laws. But those laws still try to assure, in some way, that people are treated as individuals. And none of the characteristics you mention come near to the concerns of those laws.

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  • My main point of the question was a bit different. I meant to ask that since professors would like to increase diversity of their research groups, would they generally prefer not selecting two equally strong students coming straight from the same undergrad institution in the same year of admission. – joshinh Oct 31 '19 at 16:51
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    "Both accepted, or both rejected is more likely than only one accepted" is true even for independent candidates if acceptance probability is not equal to ½. – Valentas Oct 31 '19 at 19:30
  • @Valentas, yes. Most of the candidates are not at the extreme end of the decision ranking. – Buffy Oct 31 '19 at 19:33
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Are these people identical twins? Presumably despite having similar “profiles” they are distinct human beings each with their own name, personality, interests, and goals. The superficial fact that they come from the same undergraduate institution seems totally irrelevant from the point of view of a professor or graduate admissions committee.

So basically your question is informed by what appears to be a false premise. As @buffy stated, it is true that the students are obviously in competition with each other, but the point is that they are no more (or less) in competition with each other than they would be if they were applying from different schools but still had similar “profiles”.

In other words, the simple answer to your question is “no”. Except maybe for the situation of actual twins, which may indeed present some unique difficulties (I’ve actually heard of such cases).

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