What to Do While You Wait for College Admission Decisions

Between November 30, when the University of California applications are due, and February 15, when the very last of the selective colleges' applications are due, students think they have only one job: wait. For some students and their families, this waiting time can be pure agony. Here are some suggestions for managing this last month.

1.  Keep tabs on your application, even if you have confirmation that it is complete. Sometimes there are questions, perhaps related to a school-awarded scholarship. This year the ACT and College Board have experienced several frustrating scoring and reporting problems.  Interviews might contact you. Check your e-mail or the school portal every single day.

2.  Keep tabs on your financial aid applications. The FAFSA and CSS Profile must be complete and submitted on time. Although colleges often say that they are need-blind or meet a student's full need, the truth is that they all have a financial aid budget. By not having your forms in place on time, you are making it easy for a financial aid officer to give what could have been your scholarship to someone else.

3.  Interviews are still being conducted. Respond immediately to any e-mail regarding an interview. Alumni interviewers are setting time aside to meet you, and they don't take kindly to students who don't reply promptly. Even if you aren't available in the next week or two, tell them that. A shocking number of students take a careless attitude here. I've seen alumni interview reports that begin, "It took me five attempts to set up a meeting with Rachel...." After all of the work you have done, do you want to undermine your application by insulting the interviewer? And always, always, always, write a thank you note to the interviewer within 24 hours.

4.  Contact the school if you have additional information. Additional information is worthwhile if it is significant: you won a major award, had an article published, received recognition for something important.  To communicate with the school, ask your school-based counselor for the name and e-mail address of the admissions officer who is responsible for your school, and write a brief note. You may need to explain the award, and for that I encourage students to include links to websites with relevant information. Caution: This does not mean write them a letter to let them know that you got a good grade in your English class. E-mails like that appear as if you are trying to submit one more essay.

5.  Write thank you notes to everyone who supported your application. This includes teachers who wrote recommendations for you and helped you edit your essays; counselors who wrote counselor letters; administrative personnel in the counseling office who gather and submit information such as transcripts; outside recommenders who took extra time to write on your behalf; your interviewers. They have worked hard on your behalf, and you should acknowledge that. And, if they are for some reason questioned by the college, wouldn't you like them to mention that you behave in mature and thoughtful ways?

6.  Keep your grades up! It is very tempting to tell yourself, "My transcript is in so I am done." Not quite so fast. You might clear a wait list in the summer. Teachers might be questioned about your ongoing performance, especially if you have had irregular performance in the past. Working hard in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes can lead to higher test scores which can lead to college credit which can lead to lots of good things. Don't waste those opportunities. 

7.  Make a decision and stick to it: do I tell other people about my applications, or do I keep it to myself? In general, I prefer for students to keep everything private. Nosy friends, family members, teachers, even neighbors are sometimes very curious, and just can't stop asking. Actually, I've found that the parents of other students are the worst offenders. A simple decline to share, "I've chosen to keep this private, but I'll let you know my final decision," should be enough, although you may have to repeat this several times.

8.  Don't focus on only one school. Turning, "Will I get into Harvard? Will I get into Harvard?" over and over in your mind is neither healthy nor helpful. Imagine yourself at all of your schools, with a little extra time on your safety schools. 

9.  Regret nothing you did during the application process, even if you did some really dumb things. Instead, focus on what you did accomplish. Your work may not have been your best work, but it was yours. Own it.

10.  Once your applications are complete, you will have more time to spend with your friends. Years later, you won't remember the application process as much as you will remember your classmates. Use these last months together to build more memories with your friends.


Photo:  "Western Washington University Fountain in Red Square," courtesy Michael Kuroda, April 17, 2005, FlickrCC