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I am currently finishing up my applications for PhD programs (in the humanities) and, in working on a draft of my statement of purpose for one school that I have not yet turned in, I noticed an error. It is a typo of sorts, the omission of a verb which renders a sentence "nonsensical." The intention of the sentence is still clear but it is quite noticeable. Think something along the lines of "Excited by the interdisciplinary dialogue at Harvard." as the uncorrected sentence, missing an "I am" at the beginning.

The problem is, I have already submitted this mistake in my statement of purpose for four or five other schools. A friend, who submitted corrections to his applications when he was applying, says that it would be no problem to contact the department/admissions administrative secretary with a corrected PDF. I am afraid of making it worse by submitting corrections, but also would love to fix it if I could.

Any thoughts on what I should do? I am kicking myself for not noticing it... what's really annoying, is that I noticed and fixed it in two applications, but must have reverted to a previous draft for the rest of the schools.

All advice/reassurance/chastisement is appreciated, especially if you have experience with such a blunder yourself.

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This is not a material error. I wouldn't worry about it. We get much more egregious errors such as uploading the wrong statement (such as for another school) or misspelling the name of the core faculty member you wanted to work with, etc.

You'd think those types of mistakes would be killer, but they really aren't. We realize students are under stress and that application management systems are cumbersome. We're all human in the end.

What's most important is the qualifications of the applicant as a whole.

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  • "You'd think those types of mistakes would be killer, but they really aren't." I would imagine we'd have to take the universality of this statement with a grain of salt...? – user541686 Dec 29 '17 at 0:52
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    I’ve done grad admissions for over a dozen years at two different R1 institutions and must have now read well over 2000 applications. Minor errors are not something that I’ve ever seen seriously raised at admissions meetings. – RoboKaren Dec 29 '17 at 1:57
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    @RoboKaren It wouldn’t be raised at admissions meetings if it led to being excluded in the preselection. I agree that OP’s mistake probably wouldn’t qualify for this but a consistent disregard for common rules of spelling (or other sloppiness) would lead some people to immediately filter out an application without even reading through it. – Konrad Rudolph Dec 29 '17 at 12:34
  • @RoboKaren Thank you so much for your comment. I appreciate someone on "the inside" with understanding. Heck, it might not even be noticed, given the awesome capacity of the human brain to read what is meant even through weird errors... Also thanks to the others who commented. I'm taking this as a moment to more thoroughly read through my statement and writing sample once more, and get a fresh pair of eyes on them, before I send them to the last few schools. Thankfully I don't think this is a pervasive problem in my writing. Happy New Year and many thanks for the input. – phdapplicantdoofus Dec 30 '17 at 2:10
  • If the applicant is consistently sloppy, then yes, that would be grounds for exclusion. But one or two errors in an otherwise strong portfolio? You have to remember the statement is just one component of analysis, we also look at letters as well as the coursework, writing sample, research portfolio, etc. – RoboKaren Dec 30 '17 at 6:40
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The answer to your question will probably depend on the department, more so than on the field. Asking if you can replace your essay will probably not hurt your application, but your request is unlikely to be met.

At my institution, for instance, PhD applications are handled first by a few staff members, who will make sure all materials are complete and assign your application to one of the faculty members who you have mentioned in your application and/or who are in the admissions committee. If the secretary has already forwarded your application, then there is nothing the applicant could do to correct it. If it has not been forwarded, there is also nothing you can do about it as the staff members are advised to not accept any separate materials other than letters of recommendation, especially by email, except under very special circumstances (a typo is not one). In this case, your email will probably be ignored or responded with a friendly "there's nothing we can do about it", which will not impact your application in any way, but will entrust another task to the staff members, who are already very loaded.

However, do not send your updated statement on first contact. First make sure that they will accept it (call/email them), and only then send your updated statement. I believe my university provides a specific url for the applicant to upload additional documents.

I am not in the humanities, though.

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  • Agreed. We don’t usually allow files to be swapped out post deadline as that would be a huge administrative headache. The only exception I’ve seen is allowing late letters to be snuck in, but we’ve been cracking down on even that. – RoboKaren Jan 4 '18 at 6:44

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