It's Decision Season - I Haven't Heard Anything, What Do I Do?

Ah decision season.  The highs and the lows.  The next several blog postings will focus on what to do in response to the various decisions you’ll get from the colleges where you applied:  nothing, denied, waitlisted, accepted with a twist, and accepted.  I’ve ordered the blogs in order of the number of questions I get from applicants about each decision – I get the most questions about hearing nothing and I get the fewest questions about being accepted.  So I figure we should tackle them based on what you want/need to know. 

No news is definitely problematic, especially when you are waiting to hear from your top choice college.  You can’t even really focus on the news coming from other colleges because you are so fixated on hearing from this ONE college.  But you know you don’t want to jinx anything by being a pest, so what should you do?

I hope it goes without saying that you’ve been on top of things throughout the admissions process and that you know FOR SURE AND CERTAIN that your application was complete.  Only complete applications get read and evaluated.  You won’t get a decision letter or email if there isn’t a decision!  If you failed to monitor the status of your application, stop now and check in to see whether the college shows your application as complete.  If not, then you MUST call the admissions office and BEG to get them what is needed to complete your application now and have it considered.  Then, you should hustle and get them what they need to complete the application and I do mean hustle.  Frankly, your chances of admission are very low, but very low is better than zero, which is what your chances are if you have an incomplete application.

If indeed your application was complete, then you’ve got to find out if decisions have been released by the college in question.  Before you call the college and ask, do a little research on your own.  Go to the college’s website and see if the college has posted a deadline for notification or has an alert up telling applicants when decisions will be released.  If you can’t find anything there, visit the College Confidential site and check to see if there is a thread about decisions from that college.  If no thread, then start one.  In my experience, this is a time when the web grapevine is very accurate and helpful and there is none better than College Confidential.  If decisions have not been released, then sit tight and be patient.  Late decision letters mean the admissions office is swamped and calls from eager applicants will only delay the process further.

If decisions have indeed been released and you haven’t heard, then you do need to take action.  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 I 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, I want you to 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.

Of course, once the hold-ups and snags of the decision process have been ironed out, you will actually get a decision.  At that point, you’ll want to read the next few blogs and figure out how to handle the news whatever it is….

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 (most recently at Dartmouth College). Follow Alison on Twitter (@IveyCollege)