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After the College Application: What Happens Next

The college application process takes a lot of time and energy during your final years of high school. Once the recommendation letters are in, the SAT and ACT tests are taken, the interviews conducted, the essays written, and the applications submitted - whew! - the process of waiting for a decision to arrive in your mailbox can be an agonizing one.

The College Application Waiting Game

Do be patient. Just as the process to submit your college application was time consuming, so too is the process to review all of those applications. At some schools, admissions counselors will undertake the task of reviewing tens of thousands of applications. While you wait, be on the lookout for a postcard, letter, or e-mail from the schools you've applied to either confirming receipt of your application materials, or letting you know of any documents, test scores, or recommendation letters that are missing from your application. Respond promptly to any notices requesting additional information. If you do not receive any communication from the schools you've applied to within a few weeks, send a polite and professional letter or e-mail to the admissions office asking for confirmation that they've received your application and all supporting materials. Once you know everything is in the hands of an admissions officer, you wait. Consider this a great time to catch up with friends and take up all of those social activities you sidelined over the last months of application work. This will help the time pass much faster than waiting by the mailbox.

What Happens After You Get in To College

When you get your acceptance letters - fingers crossed! - now comes the time to make a decision. If you've applied to more than one school (highly recommended), it's possible that you will also be admitted by more than one school, and you will have to choose among them.

If one of the schools that accepted you was your top choice, your decision is probably an easy one. However, do compare the financial aid packages offered by each school (if you qualify). There may be significant differences among them, which can help tip the scales more in favor of one school.

Do your best to make your acceptance decision quickly -- most schools will want a response by April 1st. If you decide not to attend, they can offer your spot to another student. Do be polite and courteous in your decline of any admissions offers, and send thank-you letters to anyone in the admissions office with whom you met personally, or developed a relationship.

Once you've notified your school of choice that you plan to enroll, there is no time to sit back and relax. You will still need to take several follow-up steps:

  • Pay your tuition deposit promptly to hold your spot in the incoming freshman class.
  • Personally thank any admissions counselors with whom you met personally, or spoke with over the phone (send an e-mail or a letter).
  • Notify all teachers and mentors who provided recommendation letters of your acceptance, and send them thank-you letters to show your gratitude for their time and thoughts, which contributed to your acceptance.
  • Request final transcripts sent to your college of choice. (Warning! After you are accepted, be sure to keep up your grades and activities. If your final transcripts show a significant drop in academic performance, the luster of your application will dull, and your school of choice retains every right to withdraw your admission offer.)
  • Check with the financial aid office of your chosen school to make sure all of your paperwork is in order.
  • Contact the student housing office to begin the process of college housing options.
  • Make sure you receive all necessary information from your chosen school with instructions for registering for classes, dorm move-in dates and procedures, freshman orientation, meal plans, and other details.


Congratulations! You're on your way to getting your bachelor's degree and beginning an exciting career!

What Happens if You Don't Get in to College

Not getting in to the school of your choice can be upsetting -- especially if you've spent months working on applications and making sure you had the credentials required to get in. It's important to keep in mind that college admissions is very competitive, and students should not take rejections personally. Even if you met all minimum admissions requirements for your top-choice college or university, this is no guarantee of admission. Schools look at each student as a whole, not just a set of test scores, so the admissions decision ultimately contains some degree of subjectivity. The good news is, you likely still have other options to pursue your bachelor's degree:

Consider a Second-Choice or 'Safety' School

Hopefully, you applied to more than one college or university. Applying to at least two schools is highly advisable. One of these is likely your top choice, and may be more exclusive. At least one other school you apply to should be a second-choice or 'safety' school, meaning that there is little to no chance that you would not be accepted. If you followed this advice and have been accepted by another school, consider this a success! College admissions is highly competitive, even for many second-choice schools, so accepting an admission at a school that may not have been your first choice should not be taken as defeat.

Consider Applying to a College with Rolling Admissions

If you didn't get in to any schools you applied to, now is not the time to feel sorry for yourself -- now is the time to take action. You may be late, but you're not out of the game. Many colleges offer rolling admissions, meaning that they will continue to accept applications from students on a rolling basis until all spots are filled. You will need to take action quickly to fill out application materials, and have recommendation letters, transcripts, and standardized test scores sent to other schools. First, call any schools that have rolling admissions that you might be interested in to find out if there are still any open spots in their class. If there are, it's time to get to work.


Consider a Community College

A communtiy college or other two-year degree-granting institution can provide a great bridge between high school and a four-year college or university. Many states have community colleges with very simple application procedures, practically guaranteeing that you can find a community college that will accept you if you did not get in to any of the four-year schools you applied to. A community college can save you tens of thousands of dollars in tuition costs, and if you're interested, you can transfer to a four-year college after a year or two.

What Happens if you Are Waitlisted for College

If you've been waitlisted by a top-choice college or university, the waiting game is unfortunately not over. If you are offered a spot in the class, you may have to wait several weeks to find out, and you also may have a window of only a few hours to communicate your intent to enroll if you are offered a spot. If you have been accepted by another school that you could envision being a good fit for you, seriously consider whether risking the waitlist at your top-choice school is worth it. It's worthwhile to note that many colleges and universities are notorious for padding their waitlists with thousands of students, only to admit a dozen or so. That said, if you do decide to wait out the waitlist, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of getting off the waitlist and on the rollcall:

  • Promptly return the reply card or online form that came with your waitlist notice, indicating that you are still very much interested in attending the school.
  • In addition to the reply card, write a professional and courteous letter to the admissions counselor assigned to your geographic region, reiterating your 100 percent commitment to enroll should you be offered a spot at the school. Be as specific as possible about why you are a good candidate, making it clear why you consider the school to be an ideal match for you, and why you would make a great addition to the freshman class. If you have any new academic bragging rights, awards, athletic or artistic achievements, or other news of note, be sure to include that information as well.
  • Consider sending an additional recommendation letter. Be careful here, though. You want to offer new information that may sway your admissions decision, not waste the time of the admissions committee. If you can send a recommendation letter that will offer new information and praise, then consider it. If you think it will simply reiterate what the committee already has on file, skip it.
  • If you didn't interview in person or over the phone with an admissions counselor, call the admissions office and request an interview now. If possible, speak directly with the dean of admissions, and be sure to explain any areas of your academic or personal record that you suspect may have contributed to you not being accepted. Keep in mind, however, that this interview should not be used to ask why you were not accepted. It's your job to sell yourself, not to ask the admissions committee to explain their decision.


Whatever you do, be ethical and honest. Trying to bribe admissions officials is the fastest way to a clean rejection. Ultimately, know that if you follow these steps you have done everything you can. If you are offered a spot in the freshman class, congratulations! If not, all is not lost. Consider the other options available to you - see the section above about What Happens if You Don't Get in to College. And good luck!


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