What to Do While Waiting for College Admission Decisions

There’s a sense of excitement about the future that comes with sending your college applications. Next comes the waiting, which for some students can be the hardest part.

The average turnaround time for an admissions decision for schools with rolling admissions is four to six weeks, though in some cases students might have to wait longer. For regular decision candidates, the wait is more like eight to 12 weeks.

Students handle that waiting period differently, experts say. Some students allow the uncertainty to get the better of them, constantly checking their admissions portal and contacting admissions offices for updates. Other students catch the proverbial “senioritis” and disconnect as soon as they hit send on their applications.

Both approaches can potentially impact admissions decisions, so navigating the waiting period is about finding balance between those two extremes and finding ways to be productive, experts say.

“It’s important to just stay busy,” says Rod Lembvem, a principal admissions counselor at IvyWise, an admissions consulting firm. “I think the busier you are during that process, the easier you’ll find that you’re able to deal with that waiting period.”

Here are answers to questions students and parents might be asking while waiting for those decisions.

When and How Often Should I Follow Up on My Application?

Most colleges send a confirmation email once an application is received and include instructions on how to check the application status in their online portal. These online portals are intended to be a self-service stop for students and parents to find answers to questions, verify information and keep tabs on admissions decisions, says Sacha Thieme, assistant vice provost and executive director of admissions at Indiana University–Bloomington.

Thieme says it’s natural for parents and students to want to follow up, and she welcomes that as an effort to verify information early on.

But generally, admissions counselors urge parents and students to trust the status updates on their application portal. Many answers to questions can also be found on the school’s admissions website, Lembvem says.

Lembvem, who previously served as the associate director of admissions at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio said following up early with the admissions office “once or twice” is beneficial, because in some cases he found that students were missing items.

“It doesn’t hurt to double check,” he says, “but you also don’t want to be that student that is obsessively reaching out to schools to check the status of their application. That could truly, ultimately, harm your application if you’re being remembered by an admissions person as that person that, at this point, is just annoying.”

Colleges are trying to determine whether or not someone is a good fit for a university. “Maybe that tells you something about the sort of interactions that that student might have with faculty,” he says. “Is that really a student that you want to have?”

What Can I Do While I Wait?

Decisions for rolling admissions will start to arrive for some students toward the end of October or early November, though some might not come until the spring. Students applying for early action or early decision typically need to submit their application by November 1 or 15, and decisions for both typically come in December or January — making them the fastest to arrive, at times within a month. For regular decision, the timeline is more like a January deadline and decisions in March or April.

Much of a student’s college application will highlight and be judged on what they accomplished during their first three years of high school, but students should still approach their senior year with a high level of focus even after sending their applications off, experts say. That’s especially true for students applying to highly selective colleges, where it becomes less about boosting a résumé and more about finishing strong. These colleges often request senior year grades even after offering admissions.

Outside of the classroom, Thieme encourages students to pursue endeavors that bring them joy or “experiences where they have felt most excited, most curious, most confident or even empowered.”

While it’s too late to improve an application, joining a new club or sports team can help students make the most of their final year of high school.

“All of this is preparation for the next stage,” Thieme says. “When you look at the college process, your senior year is that last opportunity to prepare for what, more often than not, is a higher level of learning environment.”

When Do I Need to Make a Decision?

Sometimes schools can take longer than expected to release a decision, or they might put students on a waitlist.

Waiting to hear from a target school can offer an opportunity for students to research or apply to other schools. Students should use this time to discern whether it’s realistic that they’ll be admitted to their target school or if they should pursue more likely options, Thieme says.

“I think it’s really important for students to have a list of institutions that they feel really good about,” Thieme says.

For regular decision and early action, students typically have until May 1 to decide on a school and pay an enrollment deposit. Students on a waitlist might not get off by May 1, which is another factor to consider.

Students applying for early decision must enroll if offered admissions and pay a nonrefundable enrollment deposit in advance of the May 1 deadline.

Enrollment deposits are not always binding, but they can be costly, ranging anywhere from $100 to possibly more than $1,000, depending on the school. Students can accept admissions to School B even after paying an enrollment deposit at School A, but they might forfeit the deposit.

Students should weigh whether to wait on one school or to get registered and have a clear path forward at another school.

“When you’re scrambling last minute, you’re probably not going to make the best decision,” Lembvem says. “So it’s important that you start thinking early on about these institutions and taking visits, even if they’re not your top choice institution, while waiting to hear back from the schools.”

Can an Admissions Decision Be Rescinded?

Yes, even if students receive an acceptance letter, colleges can rescind admission. Some schools ask admitted students to submit mid-term grades or a final transcript from their senior year.

University of California–Davis, for example, tells applicants, “Our decision to admit you is based upon the assumption that you will complete the planned courses listed on your application and earn satisfactory grades.” Students are also required to notify the admissions office of any changes to their academic profile, namely earning less than a C in a course.

Admissions decisions are typically conditional on the application submitted being accurate, which means that students would arrive on campus as the same student they claim to be in their application, Lembvem says. In other words, coasting along during senior year can cause students to lose admission.

Colleges expect students to at least maintain the level of academic performance they demonstrated on their application, he says.

Another factor for students to consider in an increasingly digital world is their social media and online presence, says Elizabeth Heaton, vice president of Bright Horizons College Coach, a college admissions consulting firm. Students should take stock of their social media accounts and what type of content is posted on them, as well as make sure what they post going forward represents them well, she says.

In 2017, Harvard University rescinded admission to at least 10 prospective students who participated in a private Facebook group chat and shared sexually explicit and racist memes and messages.

“Social media is just never private,” Heaton says. “What you post, someone else can screenshot and share more widely whether or not you intended it that way.”

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What to Do While Waiting for College Admission Decisions originally appeared on usnews.com

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