Thinking about target graduate programs

Students seeking graduate programs sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer range and diversity of such programs. Selection of a graduate program, in the face of such diversity, can seem random or arbitrary.

I would put forth that where you study matters less than with whom you study: great scholars, teachers, and mentors are to be found in all kinds of schools: big and small, near and far. Your eventual engagement and success are much more impacted by who you work with.
Therefore, I suggest that, in your search, you familiarize yourself with the published research of specific faculty not after you've selected a single program but rather beforehand, in order to figure out to which program(s) you want to apply.

Start from the scholarly journals in your discpline, and skim their Tables of Contents for articles on topics of particular interest to you. Then, skim those articles for approaches to the particular topics which you find particularly interesting: whose perspectives intrigue you? whose writing impresses you? Which authors make you think "I want to study with that person"?

Then, with a list of 6-8 scholars whose work appeals in the above fashion, find out where those people teach. Target their home programs for applications.

WHERE you study matters significantly less than WITH WHOM you study. You need to be really inspired and energized in taking that latter decision. This enhances the odds for mentorship, inspiration, and future success.