It may not look like it after you put your 10 pounds' worth of college applications in the mail, but the hard part starts once you've forked the applications over. For the following three or four months you will feel the stress of the infamous college waiting game as anxiety builds and the days go by without a letter of reply. But a little guidance and a heads up about what to expect can help you play that game like a pro. So until the mailman comes back carrying a university letter with your name on it, here are some answers to questions you may have along the way, compiled by U.S. News with the help of admissions counselors across the country.
How do I know the university has received my application? You should receive an acknowledgement E-mail that your application has been received. If you apply online, you should get this E-mail within a day or two. When it hits your in box, make sure that all information entered on the application (name, home address, etc.) is correct. Don't hesitate to call the admissions office if you accidentally entered the wrong information or if you don't get the E-mail at all. Every school's admission guidelines vary, so be sure to review the admissions requirements online before and after you turn in your application to avoid delaying the time it takes for them to consider your application.
How can I check the status of my application, and how often should I check it? Most colleges have status checks through their undergraduate admissions offices website. The confirmation that tells you they have received your application usually will have a website login and password so only you can see at what stage of the process your application is. Receipts of transcripts, letters of recommendation, and test scores are sometimes noted on these status pages, so check back regularly to make sure the required parts of your application have arrived.
How are admissions decisions made? There are so many factors that go into colleges' decision-making process that it's hard to ever really be certain about why any particular applicant gets accepted. Larger schools often break applicants into geographical sections and assign one or two people to inspect the applications from that region. Smaller schools might employ a board of admissions counselors who make the final cuts. In addition to your transcripts, essays, references, and everything else you've slaved over to meet the application deadline, admissions officers receive a high school profile (http://www.collegeboard.com/about/association/regional/west/hsprofsam.html) with information about your school's test scores, curriculum, and college acceptance history, among other things, to better judge whether you are well suited for their college's academic intensity.
What should I do in the meantime? It's easy to become an application-status stalker as you count down the days until you know if you got in, but this in-between period is also a good time to alert the universities of changes or additions to your files. You also should use time to wrap up campus visits and do a sufficient amount of research on each school so that you can make more informed decisions once the acceptance (and rejection) letters start to roll in.
When will I find out if I got in or not? Ah, the million-dollar question. If you applied for early decision (deadlines are usually the end of October, beginning of November), you will most likely be notified before New Year's rolls around. Although you should check the university's website for its specific dates, if you apply for regular decision you will know by at least the beginning of April.
When should I start to worry if I haven't received a response? Give colleges about three weeks. If you haven't gotten a receipt from the school of your application by then, you should call the admissions office to double check. "Each year we hear from a few who thought they applied back in the fall, but they waited to call us in April, after notification letters have gone out, to ask why they didn't hear back, only to find out we never received their completed application," says Amy Widner of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at Virginia Tech, which receives 19,000 freshman applications a year. "This is way too late!"
Do I have to wait for a letter in the mail to know if I got in or not or will I find out online? Many colleges send decisions electronically and follow up with a letter of reply.
How long until I receive a response if I turned in my application late? Trick question! Very few schools accept applications past the due date. If you do, however, turn in a late application, be sure to call the admissions office to make sure your application has been received.
What if I'm wait-listed? If you're wait-listed, you should be informed by that college what your chances are for being admitted and the date you will receive final word. You may be asked to call the admissions office or declare online whether you wish to stay on the list or be removed for good.
What if I am accepted to one of my safety schools before I hear from one of my top choices, and the safety school needs a response? You don't have to respond to a school right away, but your commitments to admission and financial aid offers should be given to the schools by the end of April. If you need more time, give the college a written request for an extension. This is one of the biggest decisions of your life, and colleges understand that. Make sure you give yourself enough time to weigh all the options.