Here's a problem just about everyone is facing these days, with so many applications being handled through the online, Applyyourself platforms: How do you make sure your application is complete, including mailed-in components, once you have submitted a completed online application?
Last year, I suffered through many, many fits of pique trying to ascertain whether or not my transcripts, GRE scores, and the like were received. Not helpful, is that some programs ask for you to upload your unofficial transcript / GRE reports and then also send in your official transcripts and reports. Some programs don't want you to send in the official transcripts unless you are offered admission. Some programs will consider your application even if the official transcripts/scores haven't yet made it in. All programs require the official GRE scores. Some programs want everything in and done by the deadline no ifs, ands, or buts. Others will make exceptions for later submissions of transcripts and GRE scores, as long as things are postmarked by the deadline. Some programs are of the "deadlines, schmeadlines" variety...as long as it gets into your file sometime before you matriculate, you're fine.
Most programs want your SOP, CV, and writing sample uploaded directly to the apply yourself application form. There are a few, especially in English, that still require you to mail the writing sample in. If you are applying for a TAship, then you may have extra recommendations and/or teaching statements either to upload or to mail in, usually to a separate email account that sends you an automated response telling you not to email that account with questions about your application or whether or not anything has been received or is still outstanding.
The only things you can be certain of, once you click "submit" and pay your application fee, are a.) that they have whatever you typed and/or uploaded into the application form and b.) that when your letters of recommendation are uploaded, that switches over automatically from "notified" to "submitted". Anything else - transcripts, GRE scores, mailed-in anything - and it's up to you, the applicant, to determine whether or not the department has received it.
Which is great...but what if the department is not responding to your requests for information as to the status of your application?
Let me preface, by stating that all three of the programs to which I am applying this year use the online application and recommendation forms.
Once you submit your application (which I did) you are allowed to monitor, but not to change anything. However, it states very clearly: "Please note that it is the applicant's responsibility to ensure that all required materials arrive at the admissions office by the deadline". It also states very clearly, "Please note that your application status may remain "incomplete" even if all materials have been received".
Which, I'm sure, has many people pulling their hair out in frustration, as I have also noticed (and perhaps you have, as well) that the departments are not doing a very good job of responding to email queries as to the status of our applications. Well, at least, this is true in my case.
At one of my programs, I emailed asking to know whether or not all mailed-in documents had arrived. The reply came about five days later: "To check the status of your application, please log into your account on the Apply yourself website."
Which says: "Please note that your application status may remain "incomplete" even if all materials have been received", and which, when I hit the "check your application" button, tells me my GRE/GMAT scores have not been received (they were mailed out by ETS on December 3 and have been marked "received" at the other two programs to which I have applied...) "Dear University: I checked the apply yourself site and it says that the document I asked about specifically in my last email to you has not been received, yet that same document has been received at other departments to which I have applied, so do you have the damned thing or not???" I thought, but did not type and send....
At the second program, I emailed to ask about the status of my application as regards those portions that are not uploaded into the apply yourself, online forms, and was told that due to the number of applicants they don't check applications to verify if they are complete; that's the applicant's responsibility. (Do they want me to fly to their campus, come intothe graduate admissions office, and check my application for them...?)
At the third program, I emailed them the day I submitted my application concerning my transcripts (which arrive under different last names, because of marital status changes). Last year, this department had me filed in three different folders because of the transcript differences, so I thought "Hey, this year I will be proactive and let them know to expect this." I emailed and let them know about the schools and names the transcripts would be arriving under. I received a reply that "Once your application is received, please resend this information about your transcripts and we will make sure they all get into your folder". My application is received. I re-sent the information. Guess which program currently has all of my transcripts listed as "not received"?
It's so frustrating - Based on past experiences and the desire to be a good, smooth, easy applicant, I'm doing everything I can do to streamline things on my end; but ultimately, even though it is my responsibility to make sure my applications are complete, that's damned-near impossible to do when I can't get anyone to actually take the time to work with me to ensure this is the case. So, here is what I could and did do:
1. sent my writing sample via US Postal Service priority mail, so I had delivery confirmation. If they say they don't have it, I can point out that it was, in fact, delivered at 11:57 a.m. on December 6, 2010. (I do NOT recommend requiring a signature, because what if no one is there to sign for it? You could easily end up with a really delayed delivery; they're likely not shluffing to the post office to sign for your letter.)
2. started a new, separate file in my email account specifically devoted to each program to which I have applied, and kept my emails to and from those programs saved in the appropriate folder. If my missing transcripts don't show up soon, I am going to re-send that first email to the graduate admissions director, along with the check numbers and date on which they were cashed from the institutions that sent the transcripts (November 15, 2010 and November 17, 2010) - those transcripts are there, in that office, somewhere. If there's anything missing from my application at any of the programs, I can verify that I did what I could to see if they were complete, and who replied (or didn't) and when, to those queries.
3. went into my ETS / GRE account and printed out a copy of the record of scores sent and to where, when (December 11, 2010 mailing date) - those scores should be received no later than today (which is a deadline at one of my programs, but since the scores are reported unofficially on my online application this is OK one way or the other). If they're missing, then I can alert the department(s) as to when they were sent.
All I am sure of, right now, is that I have submitted my applications, paid my fees, requested my transcripts and GRE scores; that my writing sample was delivered to the program that wanted it mailed in, and that my recommendations have all been submitted. And also, that my transcripts are marked not received at one of my programs, my GRE scores not received at another program, and I have nothing to report good, bad or ugly on the third program because no one has responded to my email.
Today, I am going to place a phone call to all three admissions offices and I am going to make a note of those calls, what I asked(have the mailed-in components of my application arrived yet? What, if anything, is still missing?), and the responses. In other words - I am going to have done everything I can do, on my end, to make sure my application is complete.
I highly recommend, to anyone who like me is concerned about this process, that rather than relying on email or correspondence of any kind, you call the admissions folks. If they have you on the phone, it's not as easy to neglect to respond to you, and in the end, the peace of mind will be totally worth it. I debated whether or not this was neurotic or whether or not I am being hysterical or overly-concerned about it - but then I decided if they are going to tell me it is my responsibility to make sure they have received everything, and I am not actually physically there going through my file to make sure they have received everything, then this is not being OCD, it is being responsible.