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Freaking out.. Under review before application complete


meow

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I am freaking out.  The official deadline is tomorrow and I have already submitted my online application.  So have three other recommenders.  But I have a fourth recommender, and he happens to be one of my most important recommenders.  His letter has not been submitted yet, but I got an email earlier today letting me know that my application is now under review.

What do I do?  I have emailed and called with no answer.  I scoured the website and found a quote along the lines of - once the application is under review, we will not accept any additional materials and will not change anything for you.  Oh my god.  I really need this recommender's letter.  Oh my god.  What do I do?  Will they still consider it if submitted before the deadline?  

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There's likely nothing that you can do. Applications are typically deemed complete when everything has been received, which means that the minimum number of rec letters required has been met. If they only required 3 but you were trying to submit 4 anyway, you're probably out of luck. You can hope that they still read this fourth person's letter, assuming it gets uploaded in time, but that will be entirely dependent on the whims of the adcom. If you really needed this letter, then you should've chosen this writer over someone else for schools that only require three rec letters.

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Which program? Mine from UT Austin was marked as "in review" after I had submitted all of my own materials, but before my third required LoR was in. rising_star might be right, but I'm going to guess, from the similar situation I was in, that once all your part of the app is submitted, some programs get a head start on reviewing those parts, then the letters and other supporting materials are added on to your file as they come. Same reason, sort of, why letters are sometimes okay being a few days later than the rest of the app--they don't seem, to me, to be part of the absolutely crucial criteria for the first round of cuts.

Further, someone mentioned to me that "under review" might just mean that the materials have officially been sent on from the admissions office of the overall program to your specific department--again, though, I don't think that means that later materials (that still arrive by the deadline) won't be looked at as well.

Edited by haltheincandescent
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If the professor's letter is received by the deadline, I can't imagine they wouldn't include it. I think "under review" does not mean the adcom is currently looking at materials--just that they now have access to them.

If it is received after the deadline, I imagine there is still a chance they will add it, but that is probably less likely. Try to ensure that your letter writer sends it in by the deadline, and you should be fine (as long as the adcom is open to reading an extra letter in general, that is).

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It's hard to know what "in review" (or any of the statuses, really) actually means. 

I think rising_star is right that if they are going to be inflexible on this, then unfortunately you are out of luck, even if the 4th letter gets in before the deadline. I would say the program has no obligation to review the 4th letter because 1) you hit submit on the application and 2) all application materials are complete. The deadline is the last day you can submit an application, it's not the same as "committee will review everything submitted before this date".

However, as others pointed out, "in review" does not necessarily mean that the committee has reviewed the materials. It could mean that it is now available for access. The automatic "in review" email could also be sent as soon as someone downloads all of your materials to their computer. In fact, I think it's very unlikely that faculty directly access your applications. I would imagine that the staff will download all profiles and then sort the materials in whatever order (and link up transcripts etc.) the admissions committee wants. So, one reason why they say they don't accept further files after review starts is because if you want to change/add something, they will have to go back and redo all of this, which takes a lot of time and energy. So, there is a "point of no return" where your application cannot actually be changed, and it's not clear that being "in review" status means you have actually crossed this point. I would imagine the point of no return varies a lot from each school depending on the amount of application and staff available (it could be as soon as you hit "submit" or it could be as late as the first admissions committee meeting).

Finally, note that if your "in review" status email is an automatic one, then a lot of what it says might not even be true because they might have been sent by some system with boilerplate or have outdated information. You may just have to hope for the best!

For the future, if you have additional applications to go and only 3 letters are required, I would only submit 3 letters. Having extra letters is generally not a good thing (I'd say a 4th mediocre letter would bring down your LOR "score"). Or do not submit your application (i.e. pay the fee etc.) until the letter(s) you really want arrives (the danger is that you need to pay/submit before deadline but letters can still arrive post-deadline). If you are able to change this for any schools with due dates after the 15th, I'd highly recommend it!

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The email says "in review" meaning the admissions office has sent my materials to the specific department.  I am not sure what this means though.. whether the admissions office has control over all materials or how additional materials get updated.

This is Columbia's engineering program.

They required three, and I submitted four.  The missing letter comes from #2.  #1, #3 and #4 are in.  I didn't think they would consider my application complete without the second letter...

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20 hours ago, loveor said:

They required three, and I submitted four.  The missing letter comes from #2.  #1, #3 and #4 are in.  I didn't think they would consider my application complete without the second letter...

Yea, this part confuses me. If you know that they only require three letters, why are you surprised that your application would be deemed complete once three letters are submitted?

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22 hours ago, loveor said:

The email says "in review" meaning the admissions office has sent my materials to the specific department.  I am not sure what this means though.. whether the admissions office has control over all materials or how additional materials get updated.

This is Columbia's engineering program.

They required three, and I submitted four.  The missing letter comes from #2.  #1, #3 and #4 are in.  I didn't think they would consider my application complete without the second letter...

In case it can be helpful to you in later applications or to other readers:

1. Most schools do not have applicants rank their LORs. I remember from my applications that most schools say that the ordering of the letter does not matter and they will all be weighted equally. So, if the requirement is 3 letters, then your application is complete once there are 3 letters.

2. Since all LORs are weighted equally, at least in my field, I get the sense that there will be one "average" evaluation made by reading all of your LORs. So, unless there are 4 that are exactly equal, it's rarely a good idea to submit more than the requirement. That is, if you could give LORs a score out of 100, if you have a 95/100, a 90/100 and two 80/100 letters, it's still better to submit the 95, 90 and one 80 (average = 88) than to submit a 4th letter that is also a 80 (average=86). Of course, this is not really how it's done, just an analogy.

3. Finally, in general, perhaps at many points in undergrad and earlier schooling, going above and beyond the requirements was considered a good thing. But starting in grad school, going beyond the requirements is generally neutral and has more chances to hurt you than help you. One example is this application mixup---the first three letters submitted might be the ones considered, and having 4 people means there is a chance that your best letter(s) are not read. Another example is during examinations such as quals or candidacy---I see students get penalized by trying to answer a question in more detail than asked. If you give more details than asked in the exam, you might say one or two wrong things (along with several correct things) but you'll still lose points because you said wrong things. One would be better off just answering the specific and exact question asked by their committee. Similar ideas apply to graduate coursework too. 

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