Every application is reviewed by one or more faculty members. Because we have an internal deadline that needs an early decision, we pull out something like 5 applications and make an informal admit decision in January. We generally send a special note to this handful of students letting them know.
We then process all the complete files. Around the beginning of March we make a first list of rankings. We then go through and try to figure out how much support we have to allocate. (We promise 5 years of support to everyone we accept.) Once we have a clear list, we choose students to accept and students to put on a wait list. We then send out all acceptances, wait lists, and rejections within a day or two. (So there's no implicit-anything from us.)
It may we worth noting that we tell students on the wait list to let us know if they are still interested. Most don't respond. That's okay because if they're good enough to be on our waitlist they are quite likely to have other good offers.
One more piece: the couple of days before and after the reply date of April 15th tend to be a zoo for everyone. We're trying to guess how many acceptances we'll have before going to the waitlist. And students on the waitlist want to hear while deciding whether to accept somewhere else. It's a pain for everyone.
A piece of advice: If you reach the stage of having an acceptance or a wait list position at a school, you're past the wholesale stage. If you have questions, concerns, or needs- contact the school and discuss! You may or may not get what you want, but no one is going to be offended.
In fact, let me explain an additional opportunity/complication. [This only applies to schools in the United States.]
All schools have signed an agreement about the deadline for funded offers. That's where April 15th comes from. Everyone has agreed that applicants have until April 15th to respond, and if a school asks for a response before that date the applicant is free to change their mind up until April 15th. Unless a school is violating the common reply data rule. once a student commits to one school they are not allowed to switch.
Except...the applicant can ask the school they agreed to attend for a "release" to go to another school. The release is almost always granted.
From what I can tell, this situation doesn't arise very often. But it is not that unusual for there to be some wait list admissions in the days right after April 15th.
It seems we have about the same number of applications as last year. It's a little early to say how the overall quality compares, but seems fairly similar.
We will likely aim for a slightly smaller cohort this year, but within the range of our recent cohorts. The university has some budget cuts and so one way for us to reduce our spending is to support fewer graduate students.
Otherwise our process is not different at all from what we've done in the past. Our admissions committee has three people. All files are reviewed by at least two of us, but usually all three. All three of us are pretty experienced with graduate admissions and so we know what we are looking for in an applicant, we know how to read reference letters, we know who might be a riskier admit, etc.
We don't know yet whether we will have a smaller cohort. It is possible though. We have a small number of students who deferred admission in the Fall, so I would guess our number of admissions will be down a little.
We did not accept GRE scores this year. A few students managed to submit them anyway, but we ignored them.
I expect we will be a little slower in getting out acceptances this year (and we are never very fast). Other than that, the process is the same as usual.
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