I am applying to doctoral programs in the US and I am wondering: is it common for applications to be filtered before they reach the hiring committee?

In the typical selection and admissions procedure for doctoral students, what happens after the deadline for applications has passed?

  • 1
    I'll leave actually answering to the people working in the US, but, yes, there is generally a pre-selection by administrative staff based on the formal criteria before the admission committee actually sees the applications.
    – xLeitix
    Nov 5, 2014 at 7:45
  • @xLeitix: Thanks for your attention. Do you think it is appropriate to write an email to the departments to ask if this is the case?
    – Yes
    Nov 5, 2014 at 8:03
  • 3
    Longer answer later, but yes, graduate applications are typically pre-screened to make sure they are complete and satisfy minimum GPA, GRE, and TOEFL requirements, before they reach the committee. I don't see any point in writing the department; the answer is almost certainly YES.
    – JeffE
    Nov 5, 2014 at 13:32
  • 2
    What are you worried about? That your application will be automatically rejected, for example on the basis of low test scores? If the department web page doesn't list any fixed requirements you don't satisfy, then it's not worth worrying about. If it does list requirements you don't satisfy, while leaving it unclear whether exceptions are possible, then you could write to ask. (But exception policies are generally specified on the web, so you shouldn't ask unless it is genuinely unclear.) Nov 10, 2014 at 16:30
  • @AnonymousMathematician: Thanks for your attention. One of the schools I am applying to set 100 as the minimum TOEFL scores. But my TOEFL scores are near 90.
    – Yes
    Nov 11, 2014 at 1:50

2 Answers 2


For US universities applications are almost universally prescreened for completeness and meeting any stated minimum requirements. The prescreen in process is almost always extremely rigid when minimum requirements are set. The wording on website is often confusing since sometimes schools want to be able to make special acceptances to people who do not meet the minimums. This requires someone from the department to beg and plead with the admin team. One place there is generally no flexibility at all is TOEFL requirements. It would be perfectly reasonable to call/email the department and ask, large departments get many such requests every year. Just realize that the answer will likely be the minimum is the minimum.


Although it's hard to say that there is a "typical" process, most PhD admissions are handled both an administrative staff member (often with a title like Graduate Program Administrator or Officer) and by an admissions committee made up of faculty.

The administrative staff will generally filter applications. For example, if applications are incomplete (e.g., missing grades, test scores, or recommendations), the administrator will often remove these applications from the pool. If the department has firm requirements (e.g., minimum TOEFL scores or GREs), the staff will often remove applicants who do not qualify from the pool.

This smaller pool will be reviewed by the faculty. In many departments, this will be by the graduate admissions committee who may then reach out to individual faculty members who seem like potential advisors to strong applicants. In some other departments, the files of students may be sent directly to potential supervisors by the administrative staff.

Faculty will usually be able to see the unfiltered pool but will not often look at the applicants who have been filtered out by the staff based on the most objective criteria of application completeness or eligibility.

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