Are Colleges Responsible for Missing Application Materials?


I am so frustrated. I submitted all my materials to my top choice in November -- long before the January deadline. I am part of a College Confidential group where people announce whether they got in or not, and I saw that decisions started rolling out last week, and everyone seemed to have heard by yesterday except me. I called the admissions office and they said they were missing my SAT scores and transcript. I said I not only have digital proof that I submitted them in November, but also wondered why the school didn't notify me that anything was missing. This is a small program within the school and there is no separate application portal for it, so I wasn't able to track it the way you can normally do with a standard application. (For clarity, I was accepted to the university itself in the fall but was waiting to see if I got into this program, which only takes 25 kids). Anyway, they told me the person who makes the decisions is out of town at the moment but asked me to submit digital proof that I sent in my materials and they'll see if she will review it next week. Is this legal for them to just disregard my so-called incomplete application? What recourse do I have if they say they already accepted 25 students and I'm out of luck? Thank you.

I feel your frustration! You thought you'd met a deadline by miles and yet your test scores and transcript are still Missing in Action. However, “The Dean" has warned students for decades that it is YOUR responsibility -- and not the college's -- to make sure that all materials arrive safely. Admission offices are not obligated to notify their candidates when application components don't show up. If the student doesn't receive confirmation that an application is complete (via a portal, email, etc.), the student should follow up. You cannot take legal action against the college.

But what confuses me is this: You said that you are already admitted to the university at large and are just awaiting acceptance into a small program within it. SO ... if you were accepted by the college, they must have received your SAT scores and transcript, right? When you called the admission office, did you speak with your regional admissions representative (the staff member who oversees applicants from your high school) or with someone else -- perhaps a receptionist or secretary? If you didn't speak directly with your regional rep, I suggest that you call again and insist (nicely!) on talking to him or her. Explain that you were told yesterday that your test scores and transcript never arrived but yet they MUST have arrived since you've already been accepted by the university, just not by the special program.

If, however, you were supposed to submit your scores and transcript to the program separately, that's a different story. As I noted above, it is the student's responsibility to confirm receipt. Although most materials do arrive safely, there are times when they get lost in the shuffle, and it is not the university's duty to report this. So if you were supposed to send your materials straight to the program and they've vanished, you'll just have to forward the digital proof of submission and wait for the return of the decision-maker. If the university's admissions reps do find that the fault is on THEIR end, hopefully they will do the right thing and give your application full consideration, regardless of how many students have already been accepted to the program.

If this situation doesn't work out as you hope, write back and we'll talk about next steps ... but litigation won't be among them because, ultimately, it is up to YOU to make certain that your application was complete.


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