Preparing for College

Reaching The College Admissions Finish Line

I've run a few marathons in my day (back when the Earth's tectonic plates were still trying to decide where to settle). In thinking about the college admissions process, a lot of similarities emerge between the search, application, final decision, and financial aid processes and a marathon. There's a lot of preparation involved, you should have a support squad, and writing the actual applications (with all their (sometimes dumb) essays, supplements, and related interviews) takes true endurance.

Finally, though, after that last application has been sent, it's like making the turn onto Boylston Street in Boston and seeing that big wonderful time clock ticking away directly over the finish line. Just a few more hundred yards! At last!

Not so fast! You ain't there yet!

Many of you have been working hard to finish applications before your deadlines (both personal and your school's counseling department's), as well as by the college deadlines. However, once you hit that “Submit" button on the Common Application, your work is not entirely over. There are always horror stories out there about students who thought they had applied to a particular college but their complete application was never received.

The crucial point to keep in mind is that it is YOUR responsibility to make certain that all application materials reach their destinations safely. Here's how to do it:

1. Wait about two weeks after your applications are submitted (even if the two weeks take you past the deadline). By then, you MAY receive notification from the colleges that your application is complete or that there are still materials missing. (Let's hope that isn't the case.) This notification might come via email, postcard, telephone, or on the colleges' 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, then you should CALL the admission office to confirm that you are all set and everything is in order.

2. 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 show up during this busy time of year. So, if you find out that there are missing materials that you are certain did get sent, then 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 longer). Even if the deadline has already passed, you will not be penalized, as long as you act promptly.

3. 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 financial aid offices and go through this same process.

Remember, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure that all application components (including financial aid 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 DOES sometimes 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!"

Just a few words to the wise! The last few hundred yards of any marathon can be the hardest part of the event. The same goes for your college admissions process. Don't let all that hard work that came before clicking that "Submit" button go down the drain because you didn't make it to the official finish line!


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