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I was aware that there are a few REU programs that began offering positions before their stated deadline. Is there an advantage to submitting my application early, besides the reassurance that my supporting materials like letters of recommendation will be received on time? For example, if the admissions committee starts reading applications early, they may look at my application more favorably when they aren't inundated with applications.

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Is there an advantage to submitting my application early, besides the reassurance that my supporting materials like letters of recommendation will be received on time?

I'm not aware of any advantage to submitting a math Ph.D. application early, beyond knowing for sure that you have not missed the deadline. Not even for letters of recommendation, since it's not clear that submitting early will lead your recommenders to do likewise.

There are certainly advantages to preparing your application materials early. You'll have more time to revise them, and you can share polished versions with your recommenders before the last minute. However, this is a different issue than whether you should submit them early. You might as well submit everything once you're done making changes, but there's no need to rush.

For example, if the admissions committee starts reading applications early, they may look at my application more favorably when they aren't inundated with applications.

I doubt that many people will look at applications early. For example, it's common to assign each application to one or more faculty members, who are supposed to carry out an initial evaluation. (This ensures that no application gets overlooked and that the readers have equitable workloads.) In such a system, there's no advantage to starting early since the assignments will not yet have been made.

Even if someone does start reading early, I'm not convinced they will necessarily evaluate the applications more favorably. One can imagine the opposite scenario, in which early readers are harsh, in the hopes that the upcoming applications will be better, while later readers have a more realistic assessment of the overall applicant pool. Ultimately, I have no idea whether early readers would be more or less harsh, but I'd bet the effect would be very small. If it's unpredictable and small, then it's not worth worrying about.

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a few REU programs that began offering positions before their stated deadline.

Could you provide evidence to this claim? I never heard of anything like that let alone couldn't find a logical explanation for it.

For example, if the admissions committee starts reading applications early,

Well, I would say part of it depends on the particular institution, the selection committee and the number of applicants.

... they may look at my application more favorably when they aren't inundated with applications.

No they will not. Often the selection committee comprises of three or more members and it is an established norm that you select the best from the lot no matter where you are from or when you have applied provided the application reached within the deadline. Usually the admission process comprises of several steps. Some institutes conduct several rounds of interviews (personal experience) to select the most suitable candidate.

That said, I have no supporting evidence to concretely prove the claim wrong, but in my opinion I wouldn't want to be in an organisation where haste precedes meticulousness.

  • Some REU programs use the rolling admissions system, so you can submit and receive a response far before the actual hard deadline. I had a friend who got into an REU as early as December (applications typically close in Feb-Mar) – chipbuster Nov 19 '15 at 18:34

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