I am applying to math graduate programs, have a list of schools of different range, but I am so worried about being accepted to a grad school, that am considering to apply to 20 schools.

My undergraduate institution is one of the top schools in math, #1 or #2 in several math fields.

My worry is that I messed up grades of some important classes, also totally messed up my gre sub, since I didn't prepare for it at all. But I do have lots of research experience in fields related to applied math (I want to do applied math, now I am pure math major).

Should I apply to 20 or there is no point in applying to so many, maybe just 15? I also don't want to disturb my rec letter writers so much. I am not thinking about the money I have to spend on the application process

Thank you :)

  • I don't teach math so I have no idea what the norm is. I have seen a colleague (biomedical) on full rage because some student needed 12 recommendation letters. I wrote 7 recently for one student and I was on the verge of crying. I guess you should at least give the reference person a heads up and test their tolerance. And don't bait and switch, if you contacted them for 8, don't up it to 20; you don't want an unhappy person to evaluate you when checking those multiple choices. Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 4:06
  • Are there really 20 schools that you are seriously interested in applying to? How far down your list of "safety schools" are you going?
    – keshlam
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 4:31
  • 2
    Sometimes the right thing to do is apply to the set of schools you actually want, see if you get in, and if not spend a year working at something that will improve your status as a candidate and apply again. Worked for me.
    – keshlam
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 4:42
  • 11
    @Penguin_Knight: Do you really write different letters for every school to which the same student applies?!? Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 6:12
  • 1
    If you don't get accepted to any of them, then it wasn't. If you get accepted to all of them, it was. If you get accepted to 5 or 6, then you have choices, instead of being pigeon-holed into one choice.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 15:41

2 Answers 2


Just my opinion: Do you really need to apply to 20 schools? I think it is very hard to be focused when applying to many schools. You also have to spend lots of money, and more importantly, you have to find referees willing to write 20 recommendation letters!

I have read many articles and most of them suggest 6-8 school: 3 reach schools, 2 match schools, and 2 safe schools and that seems reasonable.

20 seems to be too much and a waste of your time and money.


If you are worried about being accepted narrowing your choices would be better than enlarging them. Focus on the ones you think will be more successful. Despite you messed up some grades your researching experience should be taken into account.

I also don't want to disturb my rec letter writers so much

You'll definitely disturb they by applying to 20 schools.

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    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Nov 25, 2014 at 12:55

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