I've been reading your blog a lot as I have been going through the admissions process. I submitted my applications recently (I know, late in the season, but that's just how things ended up playing out for me) and I've been receiving "your file is complete" and/or "your file is under review" emails. Am I supposed to respond to these emails or will I just be adding to an already filled inbox brimming with annoying applicants?
Inboxes overflowing with non-essential emails are the bane of everyone's existence, especially during crunch times, and March is definitely crunch time for admissions offices. My guess is that the emails you're describing are just FYI emails, for a couple of reasons:
1. They are giving you FYI information: Now you know your file is complete, and that's information that you actually want to have. So far, the need for information is flowing one way.
2. There is no call to action: They aren't asking you to reply, or to send in some document they need, or to jump through any kind of hoop. If they had sent you an email saying your file wasn't complete, they probably would have added a call to action: please send us your missing recommendation, for example. But the way you describe the emails, they are not asking or information back from you, so the need for information is still flowing just one way.
3. Ask yourself why they are sending those emails: If you put yourself in their shoes, it's pretty clear that they sent you that flavor of email because they don't want applicants calling and emailing every two days to find out if their files have gone complete. The whole point of sending those emails to you in the first place is to cut down on the torrent of emails that they don't actually need, and that you don't actually need to send.
If you put (1) and (2) and (3) together, the result strongly suggests that the LAST thing they want you to do in response to their FYI emails is to generate FYI emails of your own ("FYI, I got your email that my file is complete, thanks!"). Would it help — and be to their own benefit — if admissions offices added "You don't need to reply to this email" to their FYI emails? No question. In the meantime, you'll need to do that analysis yourself.
The same rules apply to waitlisted applicants. When you receive an email letting you know that you have been waitlisted, ask yourself if it's an FYI email or a call-to-action email. The former tells you that you're on a waitlist, and they don't invite you to send or do anything else (except to take yourself off their waitlist if you're no longer interested). That means they just want you to sit tight. In contrast, the call-to-action waitlist emails will invite further activity from you in some way. They'll want you to fill out a form, or they'll invite you to send another essay, for example.
I'm glad you asked this question, because it actually involves an important life skill that will be important in your career. When you get out of school and into the working world (or maybe you're already coming from there), it will make your life easier, and your colleagues' lives easier, if you distinguish ruthlessly between FYI emails and call-to-action emails, and if you yourself use FYI emails (and the cc button, which functions as an FYI button) sparingly. I'm making a note to myself to do the same.
Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book. Follow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey).