Did Late Teacher Recommendations Torpedo Admission Outcomes?

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My very high stats son (12 APs, 1560 SAT, only two B's) was given bad advice from his school counselor. She told him that recommendation letter requests had to go through Common App, which he did. It turns out they should have gone through Naviance. Due to this, he didn't submit any of his rec letters on time. By the time he realized his rec letters didn't go out by the deadline (because one of his teachers told him she never got the request), it was almost two weeks after deadline. He scrambled to go through Naviance and got them turned in about three weeks late. He has now received two denials, we are waiting on a few other schools. But I know this must reflect badly on him. What recourse do we have against the counselor for her bad advice? I am just sick over this.

"The Dean" is a bit confused by the technical snafu here because typically, when a high school offers Naviance, the students link their Common Application and Naviance accounts from the get-go. So I'm not exactly sure why your son's recommendations did not go out in a timely manner. However, it is always the student's responsibility to make certain that colleges have received all application components. Thus, if somehow one of his teachers never received the recommendation request, it should have been incumbent on your son to confirm that the requests had arrived and that, eventually, his colleges received the teacher letters.

As a parent myself, I know that this is a bitter pill to swallow. But as stressful as this mess seems right now, it could turn into a valuable lesson for your son down the road. If this son is your first college-bound child, you will be blown away next year when you see how quickly -- and sometimes overwhelmingly -- the burden of following up on countless requirements and requests (well beyond homework) falls upon teenagers who are still accustomed to parental oversight.

BUT ... on the other hand, it's actually not likely that your son's denials were due to the tardy teacher references. Most colleges are pretty loosey-goosey when it comes to those. They realize that some teachers are writing stacks of reference letters and get behind the eight ball, and that others simply procrastinate. So the college folks generally allow a lot of leeway when it comes to teacher letters and deadlines. If your son's admission verdicts were in the balance and depended on those missing letters, an admission official would likely have contacted the guidance counselor to inquire about the MIA missives before sealing your son's fate.

Thus, The Dean's best guess is that the teacher-letter snafu didn't spawn the bad news. However, to be on the safe side while other decisions are still pending, your son can ask his guidance counselor to contact his colleges to explain that there was a miscommunication about recommendation protocol, which led to late letters. The counselor may not confess to being the guilty party here but, if so, he or she should mention this in the message. If the counselor won't write to the colleges (or your son feels it's too awkward to ask) then he can send an apologetic email to the colleges himself explaining that his teacher letters were late because of information that wasn't clearly communicated to the seniors at his school. But he must avoid whining and finger pointing and focus on the apology part of his note instead.

Again, while I empathize with your frustration, I hope you can take some solace in the fact that your son's denials were more likely due to the crap-shoot nature of the crazy admission process and not to any fatal error on the counselor's part or even on his.

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About the Ask the Dean column: Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean, please send it along here.