Seniors: You Haven't Crossed the Finish Line Until Your Application is Complete

Not to ruin the relief you felt when you submitted your last application at two minutes until midnight on December 31, but I do have to bring your attention to a critical reality.  SUBMISSION IS NOT THE FINAL STEP in the application process.  Your application will not be considered until your application is COMPLETE.  That’s right, if your application is not complete, it won’t get evaluated.  No evaluation, no admission. 

What is the definition of complete? 

An application is considered COMPLETE when the college has received ALL of the required components – your application, your school reports/transcripts, your test scores, your recommendations and your payment are the typical components of a college application.  (Special note to home school and international applicants:  you often are required to submit additional forms, so be sure you’ve done that too!) But each college can set its own policies, so double check what each college where you’ve applied requires.  Take time to read the fine print and make sure you’ve actually submitted (or requested that someone else submit) everything required for each college! If you missed submitting something, contact the college and beg for permission to submit after the deadline.

What do you have to do to make sure your application is complete? 

At the risk of stating the obvious, CHECK WITH THE COLLEGE.  That's right -- the college.  The only confirmation that counts is confirmation from the college.  No other confirmation will do.  Just because the Common App says “downloaded by the college” or your counselor has confirmed everything was sent doesn’t mean that the college has it, has put it in the right file, or marked your application complete.  So until you have confirmation from the college, you don’t have confirmation!  Here are the four best ways to check with the college:

  • Check your mail.  Very few colleges still use snail mail, but some do.  So check yours. 
  • Check your email.  You are looking for either an email that notifies you your application is complete (not just verification that they’ve received some particular component) or an email that notifies you what is missing from your application
  • Check in with the college directly through their online application status system.  Many colleges have web-enabled systems that allow you to follow the progress of your application through the system.  Generally, you receive a login ID and password from the college after you apply and you can check online 24/7.
  • Check in with the college directly by calling the admissions office.  That’s right, call.  Don’t email.  The receptionist can check while you wait and you’ll get your answer then and there.  Once “reading season” starts in admissions offices, email responses are slow in coming and you don’t have time to wait. 

 Once you’ve checked, you are in one of two positions:

  • Your application is complete.  Sweet! Go back to whatever you were doing before I scared you with this blog posting.
  • Your application is not complete.  Get to work! Don’t ignore it and assume it will work itself out.  It won’t.  In order to resolve the situation, you’ll have to do some version of the following – communicate with the college that you are working on it (and include any documentation you have that shows the missing item was submitted), track down what is missing, get it resent or sent, confirm that the college has received it and that your application is now complete.  Stay on it like a pit bull because letting it lag is to your detriment.  Colleges have a short window of time to evaluate and decide on the applications.  If you hang out in “incomplete land” too long, your application won’t be evaluated within the college’s time constraint.  Know what happens then? If the college is generous, you’ll get wait listed; if the college is less generous, you’ll be summarily denied.  You don’t want that to happen.  One important note here:  YOU, not your parents or others, are responsible for doing this follow-up activity.  Sure you can get help, so long as help is on the order of having your Mom fax the information because she has a fax she can access at work or having your school counselor resolve the hiccup with Naviance because you don’t have an ability to contact Naviance directly.  But, it is YOUR application and admissions offices are paying attention to both privacy laws and what you reveal about yourself in this phase of things.  What does it say to admissions if Dad handles it for you?  Nothing good.  After all, at the end of the day, Dad won’t be attending college for you and that’s what this whole ordeal is about – an evaluation of YOUR ability to perform at a selective college.  So buck up, grow up, and take care of your business.  You can do it.

Comments or Questions?

 Having problems with your application that you can’t figure out how to solve?  Post them and we’ll help you.  Want to whine about how hard all this is? Do it here because we won’t hold it against you and we might even offer some comfort.

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). She works with students and families throughout the U.S. and abroad.  Follow Alison on Twitter (@IveyCollege)