Please don’t get caught up in misdirected hype around “rolling admissions” in the coronavirus era. The rolling round that many schools have implemented is totally unlike the standard deployment of “rolling admissions” from schools like Columbia operating in a normal year. (What does “normal” even mean anymore? Will we ever go back to “normal”? Is the life we’re all living now considered “normal”? Ah, the questions for PhilosophySnark to ponder!)
The schools that have added a “flex” round or a Round 4 or in some other way established a rolling process from now up until a final no-more-apps date are all interested in hearing from you. And, the competitive landscape is quite different.
If you apply immediately with a super strong app, including an above-average GMAT or GRE and a nice GPA, then “rolling” totally works in your favor: They will process your application lickety-split, invite you to interview, then accept you. Voila! You’re in!
If you apply immediately with a craptastic app, with slapped-together essays to fill out the 400-word requirement, the content cribbed from another app you did for some other school a few months ago, with a low GPA and a low GMAT or GRE score (or in the case of Kellogg, no score at all): It’s likely you’ll get rejected, or, possibly, waitlisted, so that the school hangs onto some options. They might even not render any decision at all on your app right away, as they wait to see what type of volume they get in the flex/rolling round and what quality they see.
If you apply immediately with a middling app and a middling GMAT score and decent GPA, then again, it’s likely to result in a waitlist. And that’s like, hmm, what’s the point?
Contrast that with the significant opportunity:
If you apply a few weeks later, like around May 15 or May 20 to a school with a June 1 app deadline, and you submit an amazing set of essays and stunning resume and impressive recommendations, yet with a so-so GPA and a not-that-proud-of-my-score GMAT or GRE, it’s highly likely that you’re going to see a better outcome.
Instead of thinking of this as rolling decisions, where the adcom will be evaluating apps in the order received, and the first ones in have an advantage as they fill their limited seats — which is how Columbia’s rolling admissions works in a typical year — think of this instead as rolling submissions where there isn’t a hard application date, and you can apply whenever you’re ready.
To evaluate how to know if you’re ready, step back and look at what you control.
What’s set in stone for all of you right now are the core stats in your profile: Your test scores, your academics. Your work history.
What you have control over are the essays, the (presentation of the) resume*, and the overall pitch.
And, you have control over how much effort you put in: The time spent, and how serious you take this opportunity.
Common advice — likely stated multiple times here on this very blahg — is that international applicants need to submit as early as possible, due to the delays in getting a visa application processed. Welp, given that the State Department has put everything on hold for the moment, we kind of are even retracting that statement. Should you try to submit ASAP? Sure. Should you become a maniac in trying to submit TODAY? No. You have time.
Up to a certain point, of course, because the adcoms do need to know who they’ve potentially got in their incoming class. They have to put a stop to new apps coming in eventually. But right now, it’s not a race to get in first in order to maximize your chances. That’s not the variable to be trying to optimize.
If the school is wow’ed by the quality of your app, they’re going to want to work with you to find a way to bring you on board.
So, the variable to optimize is quality.
If the schools are internally already coming to the conclusion that the Fall term will be offered online, then it won’t matter where in the world you are currently located: They’ll be willing to accept you, and will simply punt down the road the problem of getting the internationals set up with the required visa, to be handled at a future time when things are more known.
There are so many variables all crowding together that it does make things hard to sort through.
If you’re the type who procrastinates no matter what, and especially if you’re that type and you are having real difficulties right now under home-quarantine with motivating yourself to get even the small tasks done, then yeah. Apply now. Just get it over with. If you’re going to be submitting a half-baked app anyway, then get that app into the adcom’s hands as early as possible. Don’t submit a lame-ass app the day before the deadline, or you’re wasting your money. If you know that you don’t have the mental stamina to do a good job on the essays, just do them, get it over with, and put the app to bed.
But if you REALLY want to make the most of this window of opportunity — a precious window, a special window, one that won’t likely ever come around to you again — then start working on your essays right now.
Be quick, but don’t hurry.
Take your time, but don’t dawdle.
Good essays are born out of a process of introspection and reflection that cannot be rushed. If you’ve never written essays before — or if you’ve never written essays that got you into the program you really want to attend — then START NOW. Be diligent. Don’t let the Netflix demon take over your life.
It’ll be a few short weeks of true work. And it may end up being incredibly worth it.
*Obviously you don’t have control over the content of your resume. The facts are the facts. You’re not going to get so creative that you change your past in what you say to the adcoms, are you? No, no, of course you aren’t, Brave Supplicant. But, you do have complete control over how you choose to market yourself, the language you use, the way it’s laid out, and the overall messaging you deploy in the resume. That’s what we mean by “presentation” and it’s at least half the task of constructing a compelling document that captures your professional self.