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The senior undergraduates at my (mathematics) department have this impression that postgraduate programmes don't want to admit multiple applicants from the same university in the same application cycle. So they are coordinating so that no two people apply to the same programme (i.e. if one student applies to the University of X, the others make sure not to apply to the university of X).

Is this true? If a postgraduate PhD programme accepts a candidate from one university, will this doom the chances of other candidates applying from that same university in that application cycle?

I am primarily interested in answers from Math PhD programmes, but also would be interested in answers from other fields.

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    Even assuming that the premise were true, this scheme makes no sense to me whatsoever. What is the advantage of a situation where N students from your university apply to the same university and only one of them is selected as opposed to a situation where only one student applies? Surely this decreases everyone's chances quite substantially: per each university, the chances of N-1 people decrease to zero, while the chance of this one person does not rise substantially. They don't know who the one hypothetical student who would have gotten admitted out of the N candidates might be. Dec 4, 2023 at 3:06
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    The only way this might make sense (again, assuming that the premise is true) is if there are some truly outstanding students who they are afraid would ruin other people's chances at admission. But in that case, what on Earth would be the motivation for these outstanding students to willingly accede to this hare-brained scheme? Tbh this feels like (academic) natural selection in action. Dec 4, 2023 at 3:12
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    @AdamPřenosil we have to take into account that each student is only applying to finitely many institutions (because each application takes time and money) so it is not that the remaining N-1 students are choosing not to apply to any university at all, it is that they are instead choosing to use their quota of applications to apply for a different university.
    – Darren Ong
    Dec 4, 2023 at 4:47
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    Is this what happens when you make undergraduates study Game Theory?
    – jeguyer
    Dec 4, 2023 at 14:50
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    Whenever you hear something from fellow students that goes beyond their level of expertise, ask them "how do you know?" This applies to both undergraduate and graduate students. Dec 5, 2023 at 16:17

4 Answers 4

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I have never heard of a graduate program not wanting to hire multiple students from the same university. Graduate programs want to hire the best students. Where they come from does not matter very much. I can not see a reason why graduate programs would care about diversity of academic origin to a degree that would trump the quality of candidates.

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No. Never been an issue in all my years of supervising admissions.

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It's been a long time since I handled grad admissions, but I think this is really unlikely to happen. I can only imagine one circumstance where I might have considered doing this:

Suppose undergrad institution A has a history of unusually bad grade inflation. In the past, we've admitted students from A who came with great transcripts and great references, but who turned out to be terrible students. So now we are very wary of admitting anyone from A. However, good students can come from bad places, and bad places can improve, so maybe we'll consider admitting just the best one this year.

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I cannot comment in general for all the universities in the world, but I can comment for the UK/US english-speaking world and for the german speaking world.

From the spoiled, arrogant attitude of many western people (for a small but western-representative sample just check questions and answers given on this site), the concerns of your colleague are fundamentally true (yes, I am arrogant and spoiled, too, simply "against" instead of "together with" these people).

Especially if you are coming from an Indian/Indonesian/Chinese University.

This however can be partially mitigated by the fact that in your cover letter you may mention something along the line "since our group at university xyz perfomrs research on the topic, your opening of position is an interesting opportunity for me to further my research on the topic I worked with fellow colleagues and students in the past" ...

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    It is not entirely clear to me, how this is addressing the question the OP asked. The question is about admitting multiple people to a PhD program, the example sentence you give seemingly applies only when applying to a specific opening (in which case it is unlikely that multiple people are accepted, let alone form the same university).
    – TimRias
    Dec 6, 2023 at 13:21
  • @TimRias "Are PhD programmes reluctant to admit multiple students from the same university in the same application cycle?" Yes.
    – EarlGrey
    Dec 6, 2023 at 13:22
  • And how does including a line like "since our group at university xyz perfomrs research on the topic, your opening of position is an interesting opportunity for me to further my research on the topic I worked with fellow colleagues and students in the past" mitigate that?
    – TimRias
    Dec 6, 2023 at 13:24
  • I also fail to understand the logic at play here. If some decision maker has a racist attitude against your university, they will probably hire zero people from your university. If their racism is in favour of your university, they may even be more likely to hire multiple people from your university. I am not claiming that racist hirers don’t exist, but how does this interact with the problem at hand?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Dec 6, 2023 at 23:25

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