Congratulations! After months — years really — of hard work, you’ve submitted your college applications. But there’s one last step you need to take: making sure they’re complete. A complete application includes not just your application, but all the supplemental materials like test scores and recommendation letters. While you may have confirmation that things were sent, that is not enough. You need confirmation that these materials were received by the college and made their way into your file.
How do I know if something is missing?
Some colleges will notify applicants if something is missing from their file, but many will not. It’s your responsibility as the applicant to make sure your application is complete, and that means checking with each school individually.
Most schools have their own online portals where you can check the status of your application, including which materials have been received and which have not. If a college has a portal, you’ll be notified shortly after submitting your application. If a college doesn’t have a portal, you can call the Admissions Office directly to ask if your application is complete.
If you don’t see that your application is complete right away, don’t panic! It’s not uncommon for recently submitted items to take a little time to be marked as “received.” Remember that schools are processing thousands of applications, and it can take a while for all the pieces of your application to be synced up. For small and medium-sized schools, wait about a week for your materials to be logged, and for larger schools, waiting up to two weeks makes the most sense.
What if my application is incomplete?
Your application cannot be read if it is incomplete. There is a misconception that schools can simply get started on your application while they’re waiting to receive one last letter of recommendation or a set of test scores. The good news is that most schools will give you a little leeway if they’re just missing one piece of an application, especially if it’s something that’s out of your control like test scores or letters of recommendation.
If your application is not complete in time to be reviewed for Early Decision or Early Action, it will be moved to Regular Decision — sometimes without notice if it’s a school that doesn’t notify applicants of missing credentials.
If you know that your application is incomplete, there are two steps you should take right away:
1. Contact the Admissions Office. Let them know that you’re aware of the problem and working to correct it. That way, they know they can expect to receive further information for your application and may even put a note to that effect in your file. You should also ask them where you should send the materials (they might provide an email address, a physical address, or yes, even a fax number). Follow their instructions exactly so you know your materials end up in the right place.
2. Contact whomever needs to send the additional materials to the college, whether that’s the College Board, ACT, or one of your letter writers. Give them the information you received from the Admissions Office about where to send the materials and ask them (politely and respectfully) to do it ASAP.
Remember, most mistakes can be corrected as long as you’re proactive about checking the status of your application and take action quickly.
Personalized advice on your college applications (including what to do when things don’t go as planned!) is available through our services at Expert Admissions.