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I would like to know, if possible, how long it takes on the average to reach a first admission decision for doctoral programs?

Let us say a doctoral program promises to inform the applicants of the outcome three months after the deadline for submitting application packages. Does this really mean that to reach a decision requires exactly three months?

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    I am not quite sure what you are uncertain about. I do not see any way the quoted statement could mean what you ask. They just promise not to spend longer than that. – Tobias Kildetoft Dec 27 '14 at 16:23
  • Downvote for what? My question is clear. That my motivation is unclear does not constitute a reason for downvoting, by the rules here. – Megadeth Dec 28 '14 at 1:58
  • @TobiasKildetoft I am afraid you asked a wrong question. That you cannot tell why something causes a question does not mean that the question is not a question. My question is clear in itself. – Megadeth Dec 28 '14 at 2:01
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In my experience it's common for academic departments to have a graduate admissions committee that meets periodically to make admissions decisions and decisions on financial aid. Sometimes decisions on financial aid are made separately from decisions on admission.

In our department we review applications as they come in and typically respond with a decision on admission within a few weeks. However, decisions on financial aid are made only a few times per year. For example, we'll meet in early April to decide on assistantship awards for the fall semester.

Under this system, if you applied for admission now, we'd review your application and reach an admissions decision by the end of January, and you'd either be told "no", or "you've been admitted but we'll make decisions about financial aid in early April."

I've seen other institutions where all of the applications are held until one meeting where both admissions and financial aid decisions are made at the same time. Under that system, you probably wouldn't hear anything at all until the committee met and made its decisions.

A couple of other comments:

  1. Applications are often sent to a central office ("graduate studies" or something similar) and then distributed to the departments to make admissions decisisons. In my experience, there are many incomplete applications received by our graduate office. We don't see them in the department until and unless all of the required materials have been submitted. You can and probably should check with the office where you sent your application to make sure that the complete application has been received.

  2. Christmas (December 25) and New Year's Day (January 1) are important holidays in the US. Traditionally, fall semester classes end before Christmas and spring semester classes don't start until after New Year's Day. Many colleges and universities are effectively closed for a few weeks around these holidays. You shouldn't expect to hear anything from any university in the US until after New Year's Day because of these holidays.

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I am assuming that you are referring to programs that offer rolling admissions—that is, programs where you can submit an application at any time of the year.

The key words in your question are on average. If you consider all of the applications received by the committee, it will take the committee approximately three months to reach a final decision on a randomly chosen application. However, that is definitely not an exact number—in clear-cut cases, they could reach an answer much sooner. Similarly, applications received during "peak" periods or during the summer—when many faculty are on travel and therefore not as readily available to meet for such decisions—it may take a bit longer.

Part of the reason for this is that several layers of decision are usually involved: first the applications need to be reviewed, and individual members of the admissions committee will have a chance to weigh in. Then, if needed or part of the program's process, interviews will be conducted. After that, the application will still need to be approved by the entire admissions committee, and possibly departmental-level approval will also be required.

If you have not heard anything after three (or better, three and a half) months, then a politely worded email to the admissions office to ask about the status of your application would be appropriate.

On the other hand, if there is a single admissions cycle per year, the decision-making schedule is usually more or less the same each year. Thus, regardless of when you actually submit the forms, notification of the decision comes at the same time for everyone.

  • Thank you very much for the answer :) In fact, I am not referring to the rolling admissions! I am referring to the normal admissions: One admission for one year. To this case, does the answer still apply or situations might be different? Thanks! – Megadeth Dec 27 '14 at 16:06
  • The situation is more or less the same. The issue is that when you submit the application relative to the deadline has less of an effect. The decision will be made for everybody as a group, not just on an individual basis. – aeismail Dec 27 '14 at 17:20

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