Updated: Nov 18, 2021
To maximize your chances of getting in, send in your stuff a month before the deadline.
What’s wrong with applying as soon as the application process opens?
There’s a rumor that admissions committees don’t wait until the day after the deadline to begin reading applications, but begin reading them as soon as they come in. That rumor is true. But go-getters who apply too early (right after the application appears on the school’s website), risk getting lumped in with “reappliers.” Reappliers are students who got rejected the year before from the program you’re applying to or a similar program and are using almost the same exact application to try their chances this year/this round. Admissions committees also don’t like to make definite “Admit” decisions early in the process unless the application is exceptional. They are more likely to put you in the “Maybe” pile.
What if I really, absolutely must submit my application less than a month before the deadline?
If you can’t get your stuff together until 2 weeks/1 week/1 day before the deadline, you have to consider the consequences. If you wait longer than one month before the deadline, every day closer to the deadline is a step farther away from getting admitted. So when you take an extra day to work on your essay or perfect your application, you better make it count. A month before the deadline, admissions committees start reading applications in earnest and since they have many qualified applicants, they’re looking to put as many into the “NO” pile as they can at this point. Also the longer before the deadline you wait, the more spots get taken up in the “Admit” pile, since now admissions committees no longer have the luxury of “Maybe” just “Yes” or “No.” A week before the deadline, they’ve already gotten all the students they need. So even if they really want to admit you, they’ll have to pull out another deserving candidate out of the “Yes” pile and give you that person’s spot; this is something they’ll rarely do. That’s why so many qualified applicants who apply later wind up “Waitlisted.”
How do I make certain all of my materials get in (a month) before the deadline?
In the application process there are some things directly under your control, like the application itself, and some things that seem beyond your control like transcripts and reference letters. Check that the place(s) you’re getting transcripts sent from have sent the documents to the correct addresses. Check that the schools you’re applying to have actually received your transcripts. As for references, give your recommenders a “fake” deadline a week before you actually want the references sent, just in case they’re late. And it’s not rude to send your references another email thanking them sooo much for writing those letters (and asking whether they have sent them in yet).