Archive for document

Built for Speed

You could say that our first run through of completing applications is built for speed.  I can use myself as an example of how it works.  I will get a fairly sizable stack of applications that have been printed and place them on my desk.   I will take the first application off the top of the stack and open our application interface to see what has been tracked into the system to date.

For applicants that submitted 100% of the documents online the process goes a bit faster.  If I look through the application and see that test scores were uploaded without a problem, all documents are clear, complete, and legible and all of the letters of recommendation have been submitted on line, completing the file takes just a few minutes.  The goal is for me to stay in one place and not move around a lot since the office is a flurry of activity.

If I am going through the application and something is missing or is not legible, I will place the application in a follow up bin and move on to the next application.  This allows us to move quickly and when we have a large number of incomplete files, someone will be given the task of tracking down the missing documents.  Most likely they were mailed and are filed in what we call our “loose documents” file cabinet, or there was some circumstance out of the control of the applicant – like inclement weather that lead to the cancellation of a test session or something of that nature that has caused a delay in the submission of a document or piece of information.

At present we are over 85% of the way through our first sweep.  Of the files we review for completion, approximately 20% are missing a document or require some sort of follow up.  I am pleased with where we are and files have not yet started to go out for review.

If you have already received an email message stating that your file is complete, please stay tuned to the blog for more information about the process.

If you have yet to receive a message, do not panic or feel the need to contact us.  You are in the 15% of those we have not gotten to yet or might be in the 20% where we need to do a bit more work to complete the file. The more time we can spend on completing files the faster the process goes.  More than likely all of your documents are in, it is just a matter of waiting until we get through our “speed sweep” and then we will do our “follow up sweep” and match the missing documents to the file.  As a reminder, when a file is completed has no bearing upon the admission decision.

Thank you again for your patience and I look forward to spending more time reading than sweeping in the near future.

The Latest News . . .

I want to provide a quick update on a few things based on my work in the office the past few days.  I have been doing a bit of everything related to processing applications.  Here are a few personal notes on some of the tasks, under the theme, “I am always amazed . . . “

. . . at how dry my hands get when opening mail (and we get a lot).

. . . at how extremely hot printer parts get.  Note to self:  When you are printing thousands of application documents and there is a paper jam, do not just randomly grab metal parts . . . touch them first to determine if they are white hot.

. . . at how quickly our email in box fills up.  We get it close to zero, step away for a few minutes, and upon returning it is once again filled with messages.

. . . at how many countries and schools are represented in our applicant pool each year.  Last year we received transcripts from close to 900 different colleges and universities from over 100 countries.

Now to some information that really is important to you.

First, I cannot emphasize enough that it is not important for an application to be marked as complete in our system the day after the deadline.  What is extremely important is that all of the required information is received in our office or uploaded to the server by the deadline.  Thus, it is completely normal for an application record to remain incomplete for two to three weeks after the deadline.  We have several thousand printed documents and mail to get through and Admission Committee meetings do not start until late January.

Please do not let the fact that it will take us time to match and track everything concern you.  The date an application is completed in our office has no bearing upon an admission decision.  When your file has been forwarded to the Committee, you will receive an email from our office.

Second, please remember that when you submit Part 2, transcripts and test scores are not automatically marked as received.  The personal statement and résumés are tracked as received immediately because we rarely have problems with the submission of these documents.  But as far as the transcripts and test scores, we need to make sure that the correct information is entered and legible.   Thus we will perform a manual check and then code them into the system as appropriate.

Third, as much as we would like to respond to individual requests concerning the receipt of documents, this does not allow us to work efficiently and quickly.  Each person in the office has a job and we are set up as a sort of assembly line.  If one person in the system tries to go around the process and look for a specific document, it slows the process down and complicates matters. As much as I can understand emailing or calling to ask for the status of a specific document, we would much rather you wait to hear from us.

I know the stress that accompanies admission deadlines.  As someone with a graduate degree I have been through the process as an applicant, and as an administrator I have been through close to fifteen years of deadlines.  We strive to provide the best service possible and by far the best thing you can do is follow this blog for updates on the process. 

Rest assured that if we encounter a situation where a document is missing, we will work with applicants if we believe a good faith effort was made to supply the necessary document by our deadline date.  There is no need to send a document a second time to us unless we reach out to you first (we will do so by email if necessary).

Thank you again for your attention . . . it is now time for me to find some hand lotion . . .

Document Tracking and the Deadline

My staff and I know the stress that surrounds the submission of an admission application.   This entry is meant to help applicants understand how our application system works as well as how we update our system and communicate with you.  I hope this will help to ease any concerns you might have during this busy time.  This entry is somewhat long, but if you read it thoroughly it should answer any questions or concerns you might have.

First let me state that 100% of the application process can be completed on the Web – we do not require that a single document be mailed to our office to consider a candidate for admission.  The only documents we might expect to receive by mail are academic transcripts and letters of recommendation.  We encourage applicants to upload copies of transcripts to our system, the personal statement and two résumés are uploaded, and applicants self report test scores in Part 2 of the application.

If letters of recommendation or transcripts are sent by mail, the important thing is the date the documents are received, not the date documents are tracked into the online system.  Our deadline is January 5th so documents sent by mail should be received by this date.  However, it can take 10-15 business days from the time a document is received via mail for us to manually track it in our system.

So do not panic if you have submitted Part 2 and/or mailed something to our office and it does not show as received on January 6th.  It actually may take us up until late January to track all documents sent to our office or uploaded to the system.  Rest assured that we will work with applicants if we believe a good faith effort was made to supply a necessary document by our deadline date.  There is no need to send a document a second time to us unless we reach out to you first (we will do so by email if necessary).  Sending documents a second time typically leads to delays.

Also note that if you do plan on mailing your transcripts, you should upload a single sheet with your name and short statement noting the names of the transcripts that are being mailed (in Part 2 where you are asked to upload your transcripts).

The following are details related to the two parts of the application, along with notes on each required document or piece of information we require and how receipt is tracked.

Part 1

Part 1 of the application is quite simple and only requires an applicant to fill in personal information and answer basic questions along with entering the names of three recommenders, along with whether an applicant expects them to submit their letters online or via mail.

If an applicant indicates that a letter writer initially was going to submit a letter online but then later decides to submit by mail, we do not need to be notified.  When we open the letter we will match it to the online record.

If a recommender submits a letter via our online system, the applicant will receive an email from the system informing him/her that the letter has been uploaded and the status will change to “Submitted.”  If we receive the letter via mail, we will have to manually update the applicant record.  In this case, no email will be sent to the applicant, rather the applicant can log in and check the status on the main page.

The receipt of letters of recommendation should not impact an applicant submitting other documents.  Applicants are encouraged to submit all of the documents and information they are responsible for as soon as possible.  As letters are received they will be tracked into the system and the status updated.

The final step in Part 1 is payment of the $85 application fee.  After paying the fee and submitting Part 1, applicants receive a confirmation email and Part 2 will become visible on the application site.

Part 2

Below are descriptions of all of the documents/information we require in Part 2 of the application.  Please read carefully as we receive many questions about the receipt and tracking of documents in our system.


Transcripts can be uploaded to the application site or mailed to our office.  We do not require official transcripts to consider an applicant for admission and uploading unofficial copies is perfectly acceptable. Do note that all coursework must show the grade received and the grading scale notes should be included with the transcript.

Do note that if transcripts are uploaded to the site they will not automatically be tracked as received.  Rather the status will read as “Not Received.”  Why does this happen?  The reason is that we must print the application and manually check to see if the transcripts are legible and complete.  Thus it can take some time for us to manually change the status to “Received – Not Official” which is acceptable for admission consideration. 

Note that any transcripts uploaded to our system will be tracked as “Received – Not Official.”  If an offer of admission is made and an applicant accepts the offer, we would then require an official copy to be sent via mail by June 15th.

If an applicant does send official transcripts via mail and they are received by the deadline, they will be tracked as “Received – Official” in the system.  Again, the tracking process can take time so we appreciate your patience.

Test Scores

All applicants should self report applicable test scores (GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS) in Part 2 of the application.  We do not require official test reports to consider an applicant for admission.

While we do encourage applicants to list our test code when taking exams, we do not pay the testing organizations to mail paper reports to our office, rather the score reports are downloaded into a centralized Columbia University computer system.  However, we do not match application records to this centralized system until after admission decisions have been made.

Because of this, every applicant must enter self reported scores in Part 2 of the application.  If self reported scores are not entered, it will slow down our processing of the file.  While we understand that some applicants have requested that official test reports be sent to our office, if you have left the self reported test score section blank, you should log back in and self report your scores before the January 5th deadline.

Just like with transcripts, test scores that are self reported in Part 2 will not automatically be tracked as received.  Upon submission of Part 2 the status will read as “Not Received.”  Again, the reason is that we must print the application and manually check to see if the scores have been entered and printed out correctly.  Thus it can take some time for us to manually change the status to “Received – Not Official” which is acceptable for admission consideration.

If an offer of admission is made, we will then match your admission record to the centralized system the university uses for test score reporting.  If an applicant entered our code we will match the official scores to the application record.  If we run the matching process and the scores are not present, we will notify the applicant that he or she should contact the testing service to ensure that the official scores are sent to us no later than June 15th.  Once official scores are received they would be tracked as “Received – Official.”

Personal Statement and the Two Required Résumé /CV Documents

When you upload these documents to the system they will automatically track as “Received – Official.”  We will still manually review the application and will notify the applicant if there is an issue when these documents print, but this happens so rarely that we are comfortable with tracking as “Received – Official” upon submission of Part 2 of the application.  The status change is automated, but it can take a day for the system to update so do not panic if they are not tracked as “Received – Official” right after submission.

Forwarding the File to the Admissions Committee

Once we have manually checked a file to ensure that all of the required documents have been submitted and are legible, we will send an email to you stating that the application has been forwarded to the Admissions Committee.  Please realize this may take up until late January.  Again, if there is an issue, we will reach out to applicants via the email listed in the application.  When a file is completed has no impact on the admission decision (as long as all of the documents were received by the deadline).

Keeping Up With the Admission/Enrollment Process

Thank you for your attention to this message and we look forward to reading your application.  Decisions will start to go out in early March.  When a decision has been posted, applicants receive an email with instructions to log in to the online application site to view the decision.  Please continue to visit this blog for updates on when decisions will be sent.

I encourage all applicants to thoroughly review this PDF document which describes the admission process from beginning to end, including when decisions are sent, when our Admitted Student Day will take place, and how you can best research financial aid opportunities.

Receipt of Documents

Lately we have been receiving many inquires about the submission of application documents to our office.  Many people for example have asked if it is okay to send transcripts by mail rather than uploading them to the application site.  We will accept documents mailed to our office as long as they are received by the deadline.

Do please note that we do not require official transcripts to consider an applicant for admission.  We will accept unofficial copies and prefer that they be uploaded to the application Web site in Part 2.

The downside of mailing documents to our office is that it can take us longer to update the documents received on the application Web site.  Let me provide an example of how document tracking takes place.


Applicant A

Let us say that Applicant A submits all of the documents via the on line application.  Part 1 is submitted and we print the application and create a file.  In Part 2 s/he uploads the transcripts to the site along with uploading all of the other required documents.  When the time comes for us to print Part 2 of the application for Applicant A, all of the documents will print out in order.  A member of our staff will then manually double check the file to make sure everything is complete and if so, check off the flags in the system to let Applicant A know that the application is complete.

Applicant A should note that the manual check can take anywhere from 2-3 weeks.  Therefore Applicant A should not expect to immediately see that all documents have been received upon submission of the application.  For example, test scores are self reported in Part 2 of the application and after the application is printed we need to manually confirm that the scores printed.  We do this for each part of the application.  If there is some sort of issue with the upload we will work with Applicant A, however for most applicants no additional work is necessary.

Applicant B

Let us say that Applicant B submits Part 1 and later submits Part 2 but chooses to mail in the transcripts.  Applicant B should let us know by uploading a document in place of the transcripts that states his/her name and a brief note stating that they have mailed the transcripts to our office.

When we print Part 2 of Applicant B’s application, the manual check will show that the transcripts have been mailed to our office.  We will set this application aside for matching.  Matching means that we will comb through our files of received mail to try and locate the mailed transcripts.

As you might imagine, with hundreds of applications and even more pieces of mail, this can take some time.  Perhaps the first time we run the match, the transcripts have yet to be received.  Therefore the file would be set aside and approximately a week or two later we would try to run the match again.


The most important thing is that all documents be received by the admission deadline.  For the on-line application this means that Parts 1 and 2 must be submitted by January 5th.  Documents mailed to our office must also be received by January 5th, not mailed by January 5th.

However, please do not expect that your application will show as complete for review on January 6th.  It can actually take two to three weeks for us to print all of the applications and run the matching process for those that have mailed in documents.  For example, two of your recommendation letter writers might have submitted letters via the Web and one might have mailed a letter.  In this case we will have to run the matching process for the letter that was mailed and this takes time.

Even if everything is submitted on the Web site, we must do a manual check of each and every file to make sure all of the information submitted is legible and complete.  So even for those who complete 100% of the process electronically, the application Web site may not show that the application is ready for review until a week or two after submission.

During this time period please do not panic.  We understand that there is stress involved in the application process and we are happy to work with applicants that have made the effort to get everything in on time.  If there is an issue with a document, we will work with the applicant to iron everything out.

Each year shortly after the admission deadline passes we receive hundreds of emails asking very specific questions about the receipt of documents.  This is completely understandable, but we also hope that you will understand that with several thousand applications we may not be able to respond to each individual request.  More than likely we will send a reassuring response letting you know that we are working as quickly as possible and will reach out if we have any questions.

Also do note that as we receive mail, we do look to see if Part 1 of the application has been submitted and will try to match documents to Part 1.  This is another reason why it is a good idea to submit Part 1 as soon as possible.

The time just before and after the deadline is very exciting for us here in the office and we look forward to making the process run as smoothly as possible.  Keep checking this blog for updates!

Office Communication Top Ten List – Entry #6

This is the sixth entry in our “Top 10″ list for you to consider when communicating with our office and applying.

Number 6 – If you must mail something to our office, use a private mail courier.

Columbia is a huge university with one central mail room.  All “standard” mail is funneled to the main mail room and it can take a week or more for mail to be sorted and sent on to us.

By utilizing a mail carrier the parcel will be sent directly to our office, avoiding delays.  Also, we highly recommend getting a tracking number whenever something is mailed to our office.  This way, the moment we sign for the package the courier will log delivery and you will be notified if you have signed up for email notification.

Better yet, 100% of your documents needed for admission consideration may be submitted on our site so you may want to consider uploading your information rather than sending anything by mail.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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