College Applications: Enough to Make a Family Nuts

By Sam Rosensohn

Just because you completed and mailed your college applications doesn’t mean the miserable, nasty process is behind you – as my good friend Tim Napier, who also happens to be a college counselor extraordinaire at Hopkins School in New Haven notes, “there is still an agony or two to live through.”

Napier says that, nationally, he and his colleague friends estimate that “one out of every three, or more, students receive notices that a required form or forms are missing, and the notice always comes with the implicit warning: Failure to receive this document by the deadline may jeopardize your chances for admission.

“When a family gets a ‘documents missing’ notice, it’s interpreted as panic time,” Napier says.  “Parents call us at the high school; they call the college; they call the post office.  They pull their hair out; they gnash their teeth.  Suddenly there is a sense that Johnny’s or Suzy’s life is over. Or will be if something isn’t done yesterday.”

You’re getting the breath-taking picture – so if you’re the one-in-three who happen to get such a notice, stay loose because it’s routine. And if you play your cards well you can use it as another opportunity to show admissions why you’re the student for them.

“In one Early Decision case this year, a time when relatively few pieces of paper are flying about like a scene from Hogwarts in Harry Potter, one student received notice that her ED application had never reached Yale, even though the family sent the application package Return Receipt,” Napier said.

Yale explained that the application was probably in their office and was sure to turn up sooner or later, but they had about five bags of mail yet to open with new bags of mail arriving every day.

Even when students receive receipts from college admissions offices, signed and dated, indicating that the application and its forms are all there, it is not uncommon for that college to notify the student some weeks later that forms are now “missing.”

How does a family prepare for such a contingency of missing required documents?  What is the safest thing to do; assuming at least one part of the application will be temporarily lost or pronounced to be MIA by the processing office in admissions?

What follows are Napier’s Six Steps to Staying Sane:

First: Don’t panic. There is no need.  There is nothing that can happen to an application or its various parts that has not happened before.  Colleges are used to dealing with missing forms, even up to the last day before decisions, and in fact even after decisions have been made.

One incident, Napier remembers, concerned a high school senior who was impatiently waiting to hear from Williams College two weeks after the announced notification date in mid-April, when he instead received a package from the Post Office with the charred remains of his application.

Apparently a mail truck had crashed and burned in January and it had taken the Post Office that long to piece together the mail from that truck.

Unfazed, Williams said they would honor a new and complete application and would make a decision right away, Napier recalled.

Second:  Save copies of everything. If something does get lost, you’ll have a quick and easy way to remedy the situation.

Third: Don’t assign blame to the author or sender of the missing form(s).Nine times out of ten; the missing or lost forms are, in fact, in the college office under an avalanche of mail.

Fourth: Don’t be a nudge. Don’t call every day to the college admissions offices to check on the arrival of forms. Everyone is working as hard and as accurately as possible. Students and college counselors are often told by college admission people to please let them do their work.

The amount of work in college admissions mail rooms increases three-fold during the application season, and some 50-90 percent of the applications arrive in the last two weeks before deadline. So things get really crazy for about a month or so, and the last thing admission officers want is to be barraged by calls from nervous Nellies.

Five:  Apply On-Line: Although this is not a panacea, it really cuts down on the papery stuff of admissions and the consequent loss of forms.  College admission offices and officers really do prefer on-line applications.  Yale does not even like to pass around paper applications among its readers anymore.  Admission officers have everything scanned into their computers and read applications, essays, transcripts and scores right there on the screens of their desktops or laptops.

Six:  Enclose stamped, return addressed, postcards with every batch of forms that are sent to admissions offices.

And if you get The Notice, no need to panic. Call admissions and advise them that you are there to remedy the application. Think of it as an opportunity to show admissions that you’ve got great balance – schools like students who can handle the small ups and downs without losing a beat.

Sam Rosensohn is the founder of College Planning Partnerships, which offers prep classes for the SAT and helps students to prepare for college and write college essays. He can be reached in Clinton at 860-664-9857 or at