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Application Processing Update

I thought I would provide a status update on our processing of applications and I would like to start by saying that the Admissions Committee has not started meeting yet.  In short, we have not started reviewing applications for admission, we are still working very hard on reviewing applications for completion. So here is where we stand . . .

We have printed all of the applications submitted.  While this may sound strange to announce, it is a feat in the sense that all told applications probably represent close to 80,000 printed pages of information.  Printing 80,000 pages and then looking at each one to ensure readability and completion takes us a few weeks.  Do remember that just because you submitted a document or information online does not mean it will automatically be tracked as received. This is normal and full details on tracking were covered in this post (please review the post to familiarize yourself with how we track applications).

We have manually reviewed approximately 70% of the application submitted.  This means we have not even looked at 30% of the applications we have printed.  They are waiting patiently in large piles for us to review.  An application that has not been looked at is at no disadvantage in the admission consideration process.  We will start to assign files to reading teams soon and not all reading teams start reading at the same time – some start in January however some do not start until February. Thus we still have a few weeks before some readers will start reading which gives us time to review applications for completion.

I estimate that when we do complete our review of all printed applications, approximately 35% will still be labeled incomplete – which is where the matching process begins.  After we complete our first sweep through applications submitted and printed we will then go back and look to match documents that were not submitted on the application site.  The matching process takes us more time, but again, files completed a little later than others are at no disadvantage.

As we complete our review if we feel we need any additional information we will send out email messages.  Just because an application does not read complete on the application site does not mean we do not already have everything we need – it likely means that we just have not had the opportunity yet to view your application or search for necessary documents that were submitted and filed to await matching.

So, if you have not received a completion email from us at this point in time do not let it be a point of concern.  We have at least 8-10 more business days of work ahead of us in terms of certifying files as complete.

Visualization

I want to continue to provide applicants with an idea of how our process works in the hope that it will allow for relaxation to take place as we work as quickly as we can to complete files so that they may be forwarded to the Admissions Committee for review.

Please read this paragraph slowly – it is rare that an application is marked as complete by the deadline.  We receive several thousand applications in a matter of days and it takes us several weeks to review applications for completion.  It is best to wait to hear from us – if we need something we will let you know.

In an effort to provide a bit of insight into the enormity of the work involved in processing applications, I offer the following picture:

Starting with the rear of the picture near the IFEP bin, 7 stacks of paper are visible.  We call these stacks “batches” and each batch consists of applications that have been printed (in the picture the batches are in various stages of completion). Batches typically range from 100 to 300 pieces of paper and each piece of paper has information on both sides.  Each piece of paper will be manually reviewed to check for completion and to make sure the information submitted is readable (sometimes transcripts come out blurry for example).

A person in our office will take a batch and start to work through it – remember there can be up to 600 pages of information in one batch and we will print a few hundred batches by the time the process is complete.  Think about the time involved in simply flipping through 600 pages of information, let alone reviewing each piece for accuracy and completion.  Our hope is that every document we require was submitted online because if so, we can complete a file more rapidly.

If when going through a batch a document is missing, we then have to begin the matching process.  This involves going through mail that has been sorted into filing cabinets.  In the picture, you can also see a stack of mail in front of the first batch. As you might imagine, it takes a bit of time to work through batches and to complete the review, matching, and tracking process.  And to be honest, if a piece is missing we will typically set the file aside to work on later and continue working through the batch because we can move faster this way.

My hope is that by explaining this is twofold.  First, I hope applicants will realize how difficult it is to respond to inquiries regarding receipt of individual documents.  We know the stress associated with applying but encourage you to trust our process and wait to hear form us once you have submitted your application.  With several hundred batches and mail in various stages of processing, it is next to impossible to respond to a request about the receipt of a particular document.

Second, with hundreds of batches to work though, it can take us several weeks to complete a file.  Do remember that when a file reaches completion is not a huge concern.  Because of the way our Committee structure is set up we will not start to distribute files for reading until about three weeks after the deadline has passed.

Rest assured that we will work as quickly as we are able to get through all of our batches, and if we need additional information or clarification we will email you.  Also, when a file becomes complete we send out an email.  If you wish to review how you can track your application online, please see our Tracking and Communication entry from last week.

Thank you and Happy New Year!

Perspective

I like to do my best to keep people informed about what we are doing because I think it adds perspective and context.  I am a pretty transparent person and do not want the admissions process to seem like some kind of mystery or cloak and dagger operation.

A common topic that I want to continue to elaborate on is document tracking and file processing.  When I came into the office this morning I ran some reports and can share the following information. In the 24 hours leading up to the deadline . . .

  • Over 1,200 people submitted applications through our online system
  • Close to 900 recommendations were submitted in our online system
  • Several hundred emails were sent to our admission email box, many with attachments

As mush as we would like to be a paperless office, we have not gotten there yet.  When documents are submitted to our system we have to print them.  A high speed printer is sitting next to my office and it has been singing its printing song all morning and will continue to do so for likely an entire week.

Each application is a different length, but I guesstimate that we will be printing over 25,000 pages in the next week or so.  We do use a duplex printer in an effort to try and spare trees.  I am native of Oregon so I have much respect for forests.

In an effort to process applications as soon as possible we do set up a sort of assembly line.  In a nodd to Henry Ford, the assembly line mentality helps us to get through the process more quickly than if we just worked on trying to complete one application at a time.

So what’s the point?  Well, a few things . . .

First, you can see that with the volume of paper we are dealing with it is going to take a bit of time because we manually check each application to make sure everything is legible and complete.  This is why we ask for your patience in regard to marking your file as complete on the application site.  As stated in previous entries, it can take 10-15 business days after the deadline for us to get through this process, sometimes longer depending on individual circumstances.  Rest assured that we will work with applicants if anything appears to be out of order.

Second, if you do really need to contact us about something you feel is unique about your circumstance, email is the best way.  The address is sipa_admission@columbia.edu.  If it does deal with the receipt of a singular document in our office, we may be able to help immediately, but we might also ask for your patience as the assembly line continues to complete files.

In regard to this second point, I thought about a Visa card commercial I remembered seeing on T.V. Due to the power of the Internet, I found it in about one minute.  Some clever ad agency came up with a visual of the assembly line concept and how it functions in the most efficient manner.

Enjoy and thanks again for your patience and understanding.

A Busy Day . . .

Today is sure to be a busy day.  Last year close to three hundred people submitted applications on the deadline day and close to 1,000 submitted applications in the five days leading up to the deadline.

My staff and I are committed to answering questions as quickly as we are able and as a reminder, email is the best way to reach us (sipa_admission@columbia.edu).  We left last night and the email account was caught up and upon turning on the computer this morning it was filled with messages again.  This is a good thing and do please use our email account if you have questions.

To me keeping our email box clean is almost like a video game, but instead of racking up points our goal is to get to zero – as in zero messages in our in box.  We will continue to do our best and appreciate your patience as we try to keep up.

If you have not, it would be a great idea to review the past 5 entries on this blog – they provide a great summary of the processing in our office and should put you at ease concerning submission and tracking of information.

As a reminder, it may be up to 10-15 days before we send you a message letting you know that your application has been completed for forwarding to the Admissions Committee.  This is normal and we just ask that you keep checking the application site and make sure the address sipa_admission@columbia.edu is added to your safe sender list.

We manually check each application and if we need any additional information we will contact you via email.  As much as we understand that applicants want immediate responses to questions about the receipt of documents, the massive volume we are dealing with right now does not allow us to perform searches for individual documents. We have a sort of assembly line set up and we are working as quickly as we can.

Thanks for your patience and we look forward to completing all of the applications submitted.

"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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