I think the best analogy of finding the correct graduate school or program is; think about picking out a pair of pants that you have to wear for the next 4-6 years. I say this because you want your program to fit you perfectly. You have to consider the academic standpoints that are important to you but you also weigh that against the environment that the campus is in as well as the character of the department. Now that you have to consider so many different factors you will appreciate the tier system of school applications. In my personal opinion a good number of schools to apply to is 6. 2 top schools: these are the dream schools, where if you got into them you would take off work for the rest of the day. 2 middle schools: these are schools that if you get into them you are happy about it, you cleared the hurdle and you are happy with how the next phase of your life will go. 2 safety net schools: now these schools are often misinterpreted as “bad” schools. Let me get this clear never apply to a school that you would not want to go to. Safety net schools are good schools that have probably sacrificed one of the lower list of requirements but still maintains the academic standards that you have set for your graduate education. So if location is somewhat important for you but not a deal breaker then your safety net schools will be academically sound but be in places that you wouldn’t have picked to live first choice but still wouldn’t hate to be. Last but not least it is very important when you are placing your choices into the tiers that you are realistic. There is nothing worse then putting two top schools in your middle category and not getting into any of your top choices. Now you are left with your safety nets and probably not happy about it. So be self aware and break things into categories and best of luck.