Will I Be Penalized if My Counselor Sends My Recommendation Late?

Question: I am applying Early Decision to UPenn. I am using the Common App. My HS counselor says it's all right for her to submit her recommendation letter after the Nov. 1 deadline. But don't the universities wait to have the complete application before they even consider it? Thanks

Colleges won’t penalize students if materials being sent by others (e.g., references from guidance counselors, teachers, etc.) arrive a little bit after the deadline. But if that stuff shows up more than a week late, it could mean than an application folder is stuck back on the shelf to gather dust rather than read when it’s supposed to be, which could work against the candidate.

What concerns me here is that your counselor seems rather nonchalant about the deadline, and thus perhaps she might get behind the eight ball and stretch “a little bit” late into TOO late. On the other hand, there may be a method to her madness. Are your quarter grades due out right after the November 1 cut-off? If so, I’d bet that she’s waiting to see them before she finalizes her reference. Or are there any OTHER reasons you can think of that would make a late submission a wise choice (e.g., you were absent for a long stretch and are still making up the work)?

In any case, you should ask your counselor (politely, of course) exactly when the recommendation will be sent. Also, does the delay on the rec also mean that your transcript and School Report will be late as well? (These things commonly get sent with the reference.)

Bottom line: If your counselor assures you that your materials will arrive in Philadelphia just a few days after the deadline, don’t sweat it. But if it seems like it’s going to be a longer delay, you may have to put pressure on her to act more promptly, even if it means going to a higher-ranked administrator to complain (not the most fun thing, I know :().

Once you’ve been told that all materials have been sent, wait a few days and then telephone the Penn admission office to make sure everything has arrived safely. But if the answer is, “No,” don’t have a heart attack … at least not just yet. It can take a week (or even two) for admission secretaries to file the onslaught of materials in the proper folders. So, even if it’s after the deadline when you make your call, take a deep breath and promise to call back a few days later. But, if you still get a “No” on that second call, it’s time to rattle your counselor’s cage and to go to her superiors, if needed.

Sorry to hear of these extra stresses at an already stressful time … and good luck! (And if you do get good news in December, then it's time to start saying "Penn" and not "UPenn" if you want to fit in at your alma mater-to-be!) ;)

(posted 10/18/2012)