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As half of a two-body problem, I can speak to my experience from several years ago, which is very similar.

My partner and I went to the same MA program but different undergraduate universities, and we shared an AOS at the time of our PhD apps. Because our MA program was well-regarded in our mutual AOS but not well overall, we decided not to apply to any top-20 PGR programs in order to maximize our chances for the application fees we were paying.

We applied to 12 programs, both of us sending an application to each. It was not obvious from our materials that we were a couple, and we did not mention it either. The one exception was a school that specifically asked for our reasons for applying there as part of the online application, so we both mentioned that we wanted to be in a program that would be compatible with each other. We eventually got accepted to that program.

In all, we had two programs accept us both, and two other programs where one was accepted and the other was on the waitlist, but we withdrew from those before the end of the cycle because we preferred one of the joint offers we received. With the exception of the one school above, we mentioned the two-body problem once one of us received an offer of admission, and programs were very accommodating with our situation on the whole.

The other (perhaps less desirable) option is to apply to programs together and feel out whether a department might be able to admit one of you the first year and the other the subsequent year. I know a few academic couples who have successfully done this. One even sat in on her partner's PhD seminars for an entire year to interact in the department as much as possible, proving that she was worth a spot there. This would likely only work if you could find out that one of you was on the threshold of being accepted but barely did not make it. Some departments are more open about this than others.

I mention of all this to say that it is possible to navigate the two-body problem in PhD applications, and departments are usually very accommodating. Don't be afraid to apply to PGR-unranked programs if they are compatible with your interests, especially if you are wanting to end up at a teaching school.

Plan B

Something that happened a couple of times in my PhD program was that one member of a couple would get in while the other would not, and the couple would move together to the city where the program was anyway. Then, once they were both there, the partner who didn't get in would find ways to participate in the department (in one case, working as a TA; in the other, sitting in on seminars and coming to talks). Then eventually the second partner would apply again, after having made a concerted effort to woo the department. In both cases, the second partner ultimately got in. I can't say this was very pleasant for either partner, since it's surely awkward to hang around a department in the hopes of being let in, and to have one's partner awkwardly hanging around while you get used to your new program. And I don't know how enthusiastic the department was about it either. But it did ultimately end up working in both instances, so the two-body problem was solved. I hope OP and their partner do not find themselves in this position, since it seemed rough for all involved.

Richard Y Chappell

I would mention it in the cover letter, at least for some of your "safety schools", as it provides a signal to a lower-ranked program that you are (both) more likely to accept their offers than they might otherwise expect!


I have heard of cases (more than one; heard of => also met the people in question so it's real) where 2 people apply to the same program. 1 gets in, the other waitlisted. It's revealed later that they're together. Program re-reviews second person and decides to offer them too.

Remembrance of Earth's Past

As the one who posted the original questions, I just want to thank everyone above for the very helpful information. It's encouraging to know about the couples who have made it.

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