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Articles / Applying to College / Do Colleges Review Applications Before the Deadline?

Do Colleges Review Applications Before the Deadline?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Oct. 28, 2019
Do Colleges Review Applications Before the Deadline?

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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.

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at editorial@collegeconfidential.com.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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