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The College Conversation: Follow up with college applications

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but seniors should not sit back and relax just yet. If your teen is still plugging away on essays and applications, kindly encourage fewer extracurricular activities on the weekends. Everyone deserves a restful winter break from the grind.

Once the last “submit” button is clicked and they have “finished” a college application, the following must take place or they will receive the dreaded e-mail or letter in the mail that reads “Your application file is incomplete.”

Here is how to ensure that your child’s file gets read on time:

The college might have an online system where the student will log in using his or her username and password to view whether there are any missing pieces in his or her application file (i.e., recommendations, test scores, transcripts, the secondary school/counselor report).


If there is no online system, the student (not the parent) should contact the office of admissions about two weeks after he or she filed the application to inquire about whether any pieces are missing. If so, the necessary pieces must be gathered immediately. This is another reason to get those applications in now, before winter break. If a recommendation wasn’t received or a transcript not sent, you want to resolve that before your high school’s counseling office closes for the break. Be respectful when speaking to the representatives in the admissions office — it is a very busy time of year.

Some colleges will send a letter to the applicant notifying him or her about the missing pieces. Don’t panic if your child gets such a letter. Simply contact the university to identify whether the pieces have been added to the file. If pieces are still missing, fill in those blanks.

The University of California and Cal State University campuses will not review letters of recommendation or transcripts. Do not send this information unless it is specifically requested.

You must send official test scores through the appropriate testing agency. Go to to send SAT and Subject Test scores (if applicable). Go to to send ACT scores, if applicable.


For colleges requesting letters of recommendation, the students (again, not the parents) should kindly ask the teachers/counselor if their letters have been submitted and remind them about the college deadlines. Then, use the above mentioned methods to ensure that the universities received the letters.

Early decisions are on their way. Some colleges have started to roll out their admissions. If your child has not heard back from a school where his best friend applied and already got accepted, stay calm. It’s not like the college hands out acceptances first and rejections later. There are many reasons for the delay ... just don’t let an incomplete application file be one of them.

LISA McLAUGHLIN is the founder and executive director of EDvantage Consulting Inc., an independent college admission counseling firm in South Orange County. Her column runs on Sundays. Please send college admissions questions to