52 Weeks to College: Week 39 -- I Haven't Heard Anything...What Should I Do?

This is the week when all should be revealed. The vast majority of colleges will release their decisions before April 1, so if you haven't heard yet, this is the week you should hear. So what if you don't hear? No news is definitely problematic, especially when you are waiting to hear from your top choice college. This week we focus our tips and tricks on what to do if you haven't heard anything from one or more of the colleges on your list.

Week 39 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary. 
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.

This Week

  • Get your decisions -- you should know from every college on your list within the next two weeks.
  • Continue evaluating your choices for college. 
  • Schedule/plan your post-acceptance visits.

Tips & Tricks

1. Verify that you should have heard something. 

Before you take any kind of action, you need to verify that there is something amiss. Just because you've heard that decisions are out for College X via the grapevine doesn't mean that it's true. Check the college website or call the college admissions office to verify that ALL decisions have been released. Some colleges release all decisions at the same time; other colleges release decisions in groups.

2. Doublecheck that you haven't heard something.

Colleges notify applicants of their decisions in different ways. Check these three places before you assume that they haven't notified you:

  • Check your application status online. If the college made it possible for you to monitor your application status online, then they often post decisions online and expect you to check there to get your decisions. 
  • Check your email carefully -- including your trash and spam folders. Many colleges send their decision letters via email and a shockingly high percentage get funneled to your trash and spam folders! So check those. Also open every email in your inbox -- the email may have come from a different address than you expect.
  • Check your snail mail at the permanent mailing address on your application. Admissions letters do still come by snail mail, so don't overlook checking there. Also be sure you are checking snail mail at the right address. These letters are usually sent to the permanent mailing address given in your application. Boarding school kids and gap year travelers need to be especially alert to this possibility. 

3. Take immediate action if decisions really are out and you really haven't heard.

This is the time for an antiquated 20th century method of communication – the phone call.  During this phone call, you have one mission – get the information necessary to resolve whatever is keeping you from getting your decision.  Notice that we don’t say your purpose is to get the decision.  Why?  Mostly because admissions offices generally have policies that prohibit sharing a decision over the telephone.  But, the quickest and best way to learn what you need to do to actually get your decision is to talk to someone at the college.  

  • Go to a private, quiet place and call the Admissions Office during their regular business hours.  Be prepared to sit on hold if necessary.  

  • When you get a live person on the other end, politely state your problem.  “I’m calling because I applied for entry into the freshman class of 2011 and I understand you sent decision letters/emails out, but I haven’t received my letter/email [or when I log in, there is no decision posted for me].  Can you help me figure out why I haven’t gotten my decision yet?”  
  • Regardless of what the reply by the admissions officer is, your primary focus needs to be staying calm and accomplishing your mission.  Say, for example, that the admissions officer says, “You haven’t received a decision letter because we have no record of your application.”  
  • Now this reply completely freaks you out, because you absolutely positively know they got your application and you are beside yourself that your top choice college would screw up your future this way.  How could they do that to you?  But before you share your freak out with the admissions officer, take a breath and remember the mission of this call.  You just need information so that whatever problem there is can be resolved.  Sooner rather than later.  
  • So, take a breath.  Then reply politely and evenly, “Wow there must be some mistake.  I submitted my application on December 15 and I have the email reply confirming receipt here.  What should I do?”  The admissions officer will then walk you through what to do and the admissions office will bend over backwards to correct their mistake.

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.