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I found three phd programs in one school. The programs and areas of research are close to each other and also close to my interests and I am interested in studying in any of the programs. I contacted some faculty members and they encouraged me to apply.These programs have shared faculty members. In addition, applying for more than one program does not have additional fees.

I applied for programs a and b. I am wondering to apply for c phd program or not. Does applying for three programs have a negative effect on my admission chances? Applying for three programs means writing three SOPs to be read by a small group of professors.

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    I remember asking a similar question to one of our faculty members, he replied You know, academia is a small world. He probably meant there is a high chance that the other faculty will know who had applied to their peers. Will it create a negative impact? I guess that depends on the person whom you apply. – Sathyam Dec 23 '15 at 9:47
  • There is nothing to hide. At least one professor knows I am applying for more than one program. I do not know their attitude toward applying for three programs. – Hamideh Dec 23 '15 at 10:22
  • @ThePompitousofLove I must say that your definition of a duplicate is rather notorious. – Sathyam Dec 24 '15 at 20:12
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When the programs you are planning to apply to have overlaps in the faculty belonging to them, it's not necessarily helpful to apply to multiple programs simultaneously. This suggests that you either don't really know what you're interested in or are trying to maximize your chances by applying to multiple programs and hoping that the admissions committees don't notice.

However, if different faculty encouraged you to apply to each of the three programs, that's something else altogether. Then you might consider mentioning which faculty encouraged you to apply to specific programs in your letters of purpose for each program. But otherwise, I'd apply to your preferred program.

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There are several reasons why you might WANT to apply for all three programs:

  • You have not already contacted faculty to be your mentor.
  • The GPA, GRE, etc requirements are radically different
  • Faculty overlap is minimal

If you are interested in a particular faculty (and the requirements of the programs are the same), I would contact that faculty member and start the conversation. I would ask that faculty member if they suggest one program over another (they may know more about the funding situation, number of applicants this year, etc).

  • I would ask that faculty member if they suggest one program over another. I don't think that's a good idea. If I were a faculty and in need of a PhD applicant, I would think to myself Why don't you figure out yourself? and won't reply at all. – Sathyam Dec 24 '15 at 19:53
  • I disagree. If you are already in conversation with a faculty member, and they've already expressed interest in you (or even more so, offered you a position), I think it is a fair question. I was looking at 3 programs for my PhD, and already found a mentor. He told that 1 program was not accepting students (they were accepting applications), and suggested applying to a different one. However, as I said, if the faculty and funding situations are similar in all programs, there is no likely added benefit except perhaps number of applicants. That might be a good question to ask the departments. – Gaius Augustus Dec 24 '15 at 20:26
  • Did your newly found mentor encouraged you to apply other programs? Did he/she actually agree to take you as his/her student? IMO, I find it rather rare if not obscure. – Sathyam Dec 24 '15 at 20:34
  • I don't disagree that it is probably rare to have faculty encourage a student to apply to a different program. I've only heard of a few cases. But I know quite a few students who had a mentor agree to take them as students before applying, and there are programs in my field where you need a mentor's ok to even apply. It could be a difference in field, as I'm in biomedical sciences. But if a faculty is associated with 2-4 programs, I still don't think it's rude to ask if there is one they prefer (if it's a solid opportunity, which the OP made it sound like may NOT be the case). – Gaius Augustus Dec 24 '15 at 20:43
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If the different programs are in the same department, or the institution is small, applying to many programs will not reflect well on your prospects to be a successful PhD student. Doctoral study often involves intense, sustained focus on a single study; applying to three programs may be seen as an indication that you lack that focus!

It depends on how graduate applications are handled at the institution you are applying to. Does the graduate school/graduate Dean look at applicants before the programs do? Does a department with multiple PhD programs look at applicants at the department or program level? If grad applicants are reviewed at the level of the College then surely it will be noticed that you're taking a "shotgun" approach to applications, which may be interpreted negatively. It all depends on how many, and how strong, the firewalls between programs are.

At a big institution you will probably be OK. At a small one, no way!

For what it is worth, at my institution (a moderate sized, 14,000 student second tier state institution with doctoral programs) we would probably notice a student applying to 3 doctoral programs.

  • If you want to figure out how graduate applications are handled you can probably figure it out through institutional handbooks, bylaws, minutes, etc. But that would be work (mostly) wasted... Put together a strong application package! – aldrichsteve Dec 24 '15 at 14:51

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