adMISSION: HLS

Changing My Tune on Applying Early

Know this, applicants: there is no magic definition of “early” that will change the trajectory of your file.

I’m heading into my fifth cycle as HLS Assistant Dean for Admissions, and I must admit, I have entered a reflective period in this job. That’s especially true during recruitment season, when admissions officers are asked to articulate their views on the application process. Many of my views have stayed consistent since I started in this role. But some have shifted or changed altogether. 

I thought I’d share one shift in perspective that’s hit me over the past few cycles. I had assumed that it was advantageous to “apply early” in the application cycle (to the extent one can even define “early” anyway). I even wrote a blog post in 2018 entitled Rolling Admission: The Benefits of Applying Early.

Fast forward to 2022, and now I’m not so sure that there is much of a benefit at all, at least for our application process here at HLS. Strong applications rise no matter when they are submitted. A weaker application is no more likely to get an admit decision just because it has an October submission date.

I think this is especially true now that we have structured our application process around three soft “rounds” of admission in January, February, and March (rather than ongoing rolling admission throughout the application cycle). Our class isn’t filling up in November. We’re deliberating waiting to see the pool develop throughout the fall months. By the time we begin releasing decisions in January, we’ve reviewed a good chunk of the pool and thus arrive at decision-making with a strong sense of where we are headed. 

To add to this, the artificial construct of “early” seems to push applicants to rush and submit before their applications are fully polished. That’s a mistake, and it’s agonizing to see it made year after year. 

Know this, applicants: there is no magic definition of “early” that will change the trajectory of your file. Looking back over the past five years, I struggle to think of a single instance in which an applicant who pressed submit in September was admitted rather than denied because they applied “early”, or an applicant who submitted on the deadline was denied rather than admitted because they applied at the end of the cycle. 

A related thought. We begin releasing decisions in January (we’ve been very clear about admit dates since 2019, so this shouldn’t be news to blog readers. Check out our Timeline for the 2023 Application Cycle). If you press submit in October, you are more likely to hear back in January rather than March. And if you press submit in late January, you probably are not going to receive a decision until March. If you are anxious to hear earlier rather than later, consider the pressures of the calendar and plan accordingly. 

Again, to be clear — I don’t suspect the decision letter will look any different depending on your submit date. That’s one thing the past four cycles have taught me. 

Curious to see what I learn in this fifth cycle . . .

– KJ

Filed in: Assistant Dean's Corner, Inside the Black Box