Do colleges wait until the deadline to start reviewing materials? Or do they review them as the students' applications are finalized (all documents received)? I ask this because I'm applying to a school with a Nov. 1 deadline but my stuff has been in since Oct. 1. The college notifies on Dec. 15. If they didn't start reviewing my file (and anyone else whose was in early) how are they going to consider thousands of applications in 45 days? It seems impossible considering there are only about 10 people listed on the admissions staff.
Colleges have different protocols when it comes to how and when their candidates are evaluated. But, just as you've suggested, in order to survive the post-deadline rush, it's common for admission officials to start reviewing applications before a fixed deadline, if the file is complete. Note, however, that the college folks create their own definition of "complete," and thus might read and rate an application before every component has arrived. For instance, if the school expects two teacher references, a folder might still be read with only one of them. Yet, when the second reference shows up, it won't be ignored. The admission officers will still see it and then determine if it could affect an initial verdict. Of course, a folder is never called "complete" if critical information like a transcript or test scores (where required) is still missing.
Nonetheless, although the early-bird files may be reviewed before the deadline, a landslide of applications will invariably appear just before the stroke of midnight on the day they are due. So those 10 admission staffers that you spotted on the college website will probably be awake until the wee hours throughout the six weeks before the notification date. This is why "The Dean" and other experts caution students to pay careful attention to the materials they submit and to send extraneous ones with discretion. Admission adjudicators may spend mere minutes on each folder, and thus applicants want to make sure that this time is well spent.
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