Application Homestretch Items

Well, it's December and the college application clock is ticking. Some of you may have applied early last month. Others of you are applying this month, anticipating the January 1 deadlines. Maybe you're planning submitting an application for a deadline later than January 1.

Regardless, you'll need to review some last-minute items to make sure that your applications and associated requirements are fully satisfied. That's the point of my post today.

Most of you have been working hard to finish applications, but once you've hit that “Submit" button, your work is not entirely over. Ever spring I hear one or two horror stories about students who received neither an acceptance nor a rejection notification from a top-choice college because their application never showed up!

Accordingly, it is your responsibility to make certain that all application materials reach their destinations safely. Here's how to do it.

– Wait about two weeks after your application is submitted(even if the two weeks takes you past the deadline). By then, you mayreceive notification from the college that your application is complete or that there are still materials missing. This notification might come via email, postcard, telephone, or on the college's Web site, if they offer an applicant portal that allows a sign-in via PIN. But if you don't hear anything one way or the other, you should call the admission office to confirm that you are all set. If you're really busy and stressed out, it's okay to have a parent or someone else call for you.

– If you speak to someone in an admission office (probably a secretary) who tells you that your application is not complete, don't have a heart attack. This is very common. It can take admission secretaries a long time to process all the materials that come in during this busy time of year. So if you find out that there are missing materials that you are certain did get sent, the first step is to wait a few days and then call back. If the materials are still missing, you must replace them, unless you are told that there is still a lot of filing in progress and you should wait a little more. Even if the deadline has already passed, you will not be penalized as long as you act promptly.

– Sometimes admission staff members can tell you if your financial aid materials arrived safely as well, but often they cannot. So, you may have to make a separate call to the financial aid office and go through this same process.

– Remember, it is your responsibility to make sure that all application components (including finaid forms) are submitted by the deadline and that they are received by colleges. Although materials are not lost often, despite the mountains of paperwork and electronic files that pour into admission offices each year, it can and does happen. So, it's important to stay on top of your applications to make sure that you don't get extra bad news in April when some college says, “Your incomplete application is still on the shelf," or even “We've never heard of you!"

– Note too that many colleges shut down entirely over the Christmas holidays. This means that you may not be able to speak to anyone on the phone between December 20 and January 2nd. It also means that materials that arrived in admission offices just before the break may not get processed until the middle of January. So keep that vacation period in mind as you try to track down your applications.

Recapping: The two key points to remember are:

1. Follow-up is critical to make sure all materials arrived

2. Don't panic if you're told at first that materials are missing. It happens all the time.

First, some of you may want to consider sending an update letter to your top-choice college (or colleges). If you read this Ask the Dean column, written by Sally Rubenstone, you'll see what I mean:

Although update letters are mandatory for applicants deferred in Early Action or Early Decision, these letters can also be a good idea for anyone who has new information to report since submitting an application. However, don't write an update letter if you would have to reach to come up with worthwhile news. You can see that the sample letter in Sally's Ask the Dean column has some “cute" items: “I learned how to make great sushi (no small feat, since last year I didn't even like sushi)" and some more serious ones: “I was nominated by my high school to attend 'Girls' State" in June."

If you can only come up with the cute stuff, then the update letter may not be a good idea. On the other hand, if one college on your list is clearly your top choice and you will definitely enroll if admitted (assuming that the aid you receive is affordable), then it's okay to write a brief update that emphasizes this information, even if you don't have much else of substance to report. If you do decide to send out any updates, you should aim to have them in the mail by mid-February. Ordinarily, I recommend sending these letters by snail-mail, but if you have established any sort of relationship with the admissions rep who oversees applicants from your high school, then it's fine to send the letter by email directly to him or her.

Other important points:

You have until May 1 to inform most colleges of your final choice. Once you decide where you will enroll, don't reply to this school even a day past the May 1 deadline. You could lose out on your acceptance and financial aid. Plus, if you are admitted to a top-choice college but the financial aid you receive is not enough to allow you to enroll, it is definitely possible to appeal aid awards, although not all appeals are successful.

If you are on a waitlist at a top-choice college and haven't heard by May 1, or if you are in the process of appealing a financial aid offer at a top-choice college and can't afford attend unless the appeal is successful, you must accept another offer by May 1. In this case, if you do eventually end up at the top-choice college, be prepared to lose the deposit–usually several hundred dollars–that you made elsewhere.

If you are certain that you won't attend a college that has admitted you, please notify that school right away so that they can give your spot to someone else. This is especially important if they have offered you a scholarship that some other student might badly need. However, don't be too hasty to say no to any admission or scholarship offer until you are absolutely positive that you won't need it. Before you turn it down, be sure that there are other colleges that have said “Yes!" to you and have definitely offered enough money to allow you to enroll.


All the above an be filed under “Dotting my 'i's' and crossing my 't's.' Success many times lies in the details. Don't allow your brain to shut down all things college the second you press that “Submit" button. The acceptance you save may be your own!


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.