Question: Is applying electronically safe. How can I be sure the application reaches its destination? Do teacher recommendations get sent separately?
Electronic applications are generally as "safe" as the paper versions, when you're talking about the likelihood that they reach their destinations. However, whether you are applying online or on paper, it is your responsibility to follow up and make sure that all your materials (including teacher recommendations, transcripts, and other components that don't come directly from you) have arrived.
Some college routinely notify candidates if their applications are--or are not--complete. Some have Web sites and student passwords that enable you to check the status of your application. But some offer none of these options, so it is up to you to be certain that nothing has gone astray. Allow several days after electronic applications have been sent or a week after items are put in the mail before you call admission offices to check on their whereabouts. It can take admission staff a few days to process materials, even those that are zapped to them through Cyberspace in seconds.
Typically, when a student applies electronically, some parts of the application still go to admission offices via "snail mail." These include teacher recommendations, high school transcripts, unsolicited extras such as newspaper clippings, art slides, etc. Admission officers are used to this "mix and match" approach and don't expect all materials to show up on their computer screens.
Just make sure you clearly label each page of each submission with your name, school name, and, if available, a social security number. If your name is a common one, take extra care to be certain that admission folks don't get you confused with another (perhaps less qualified!) candidate.