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I recently submitted an application to a PhD program at one US university. One of my former professors, however, who initially agreed to recommend me, have not yet submitted to the university her recommendation letter for me. Fortunately, two of my other recommenders already submitted theirs. My question is - if the universities with rolling admissions evaluate applications as early as they receive them, does that mean that they will not evaluate applications with one missing recommendation letter?

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    Have you asked this question to the university that you applied to as well? Because if anyone knows for sure it is them.
    – Jeroen
    Nov 8, 2021 at 8:39

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I find the practice of rolling doctoral admissions in the US to be pretty unusual. Normally decisions are made by committees who meet to make decisions. But it isn't impossible.

However, it is impossible to make precise statements about policies of "all" US universities as they normally make their own policies. Even within a given university, such policies might vary by department. There is no national higher education system, and even within an individual state there is no system containing all universities. There are regulations, of course, but no national system.

I'd suggest that some universities will act on incomplete applications without prejudice. This is independent of the rolling admissions question. Admissions is generally based on a broad measure of the student's likelihood of success. Letters of recommendation are relatively important, but it is common enough that they don't arrive in time for a decision.

The danger with rolling admissions, for the student with an incomplete application, is that other students are being considered and eventually the maximum number of admissions might be reached, even if it isn't a hard number. But, if everything else spells "success" then an early decision might be made. It is up to the committee at that university, to decide.

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  • (+1) At my university, applications were sent to the graduate school, with requisite fees. Only when the application was deemed complete by the grad school did the packet get forwarded to the relevant department for consideration by their grad admissions committee. We never saw incomplete packets or status reports on such packets. If an applicant contacted us, they were referred to the graduate school for information.
    – Ed V
    Nov 8, 2021 at 12:59

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