Engineering Grad School Applications – How to Create Your Shortlist

Let’s talk about one of the hardest parts of applying to grad school, narrowing down the list of programs you are applying to! If you don’t know where to start searching for programs, read my guide here. Once you have looked into schools and found some you are interested in, it is important to narrow that list down. This saves you money on applications and saves you a lot of work. 

So, here are some things to consider when creating your shortlist:

  1. Depth of opportunities: If you find a university that has the perfect program or research group for you that is awesome but it is a good idea to find a school that has at least one other program or group you are interested in. On the off chance something doesn’t work out with your dream lab it is a good to have a backup.

  2. Location: This seems small, but if you are spending years of your life somewhere it should be somewhere you are excited about. Pay attention to the cost of living as well! 

  3. Diversity and Inclusion initiatives: Try to get a feel of the culture of the university. Look beyond the stats and try to get an understanding of the actions the university takes to promote an inclusive environment. It’s also good to look for representation of all underrepresented minorities, not just women.

  4. Financial aid: What can you find out about financial support. If you are applying to a PhD program, it should come with a stipend. Try to learn more about what is covered and how much the stipend covers.

  5. Qualifying exam format and pass rate: If you are applying to a program that requires a qualifying exam, (usually a PhD) ask about this! I decided not to apply to certain schools because the fail rate was so high for the qualifying exam and I felt that that indicated a less supportive environment.

Most of these points are specifically about the university but you should also really thing about the life you want in grad school. There is no shame in wanting to be closer to family, go somewhere cheaper, or make your decision based on where you want to live. These lifestyle considerations were the the biggest factors in how I created my final list of schools to apply to!

There is no perfect number of schools to apply to, but it is good to give yourself a stretch schools, some midrange schools and some fall-back schools. I started with about 12 universities I was interested in, and narrowed it down to 8 and then 6 based on the list above. This saved me so much time and money and I hope it helps you do the same!

If you need help creating your shortlist of schools, reach out to me at! I offer free 15 minute consultations to help you get started!

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