Waiting for an Acceptance letter
Applying to college is like setting a huge wheel in motion, and waiting for an acceptance letter can feel excruciating. Having nothing but time on your hands after you’ve answered every question and signed every document as part of the application process can feel like an ordeal in and of itself. It’s a chance to wipe the sweat off your brow and catch your breath before the next stage of your college admissions process – to either happily confirm the acceptance, stoically move on to your next choice of school, or even appeal an unfavorable decision. SimpleTuition has some resources and information for you on what you should know about waiting for an acceptance letter.
Simply put, a college acceptance letter is an umbrella title for the official notification from a university that your application for admission has been accepted. When it comes to the notification letter, the college can:
- Accept your application and welcome you as a student of the upcoming semester/quarter
- Deny your application and wish you well
- Put you on a waitlist (if you meet the requirements for admission but the school has already admitted the maximum allowance of students for the upcoming semester/quarter)
If your college of choice accepts you as a student, they may send you more than just a letter. They’ll use the opportunity to also send you all the necessary orientation documentation you will need for your first semester or quarter. These could be a list of important dates (new student orientation events, first day of classes, deadline for registration, deadline for payments, etc.); your roommate assignment, if applicable; important phone numbers and email addresses of campus personnel and faculty, and so on.
Denial letters are as idiosyncratic as the schools that send them. Polling a sample of denials from some of the most prestigious schools in the country, the Wall Street Journal found that students popularly cite Harvard University as sending the kindest letters, letters that “make [them] feel proud for having even applied” (which the admissions dean of the school said was to make the denial process “as human as we can”).
On the other hand, Bates College (in Lewiston, Maine) had the harshest style of rejection. While the dean of admissions was at pains to clarify that the letter denies the students’ application and not the student directly, he was clear that the role of college deans does not extend to counseling students.
Then there’s the third possibility. You get so excited thinking about getting the acceptance letter from the school you’ve been dreaming of (or steeling yourself for the possibility of a rejection letter) that it’s easy to forget the wait list letter. If you meet all the requirements for admission, but the school has taken in as many students as they can for that year, you’ll be put on a list to be notified if one of those students decides not to enroll.
Caught between hoping that someone doesn’t accept the offer of admission, and knowing that you should be ready to move on to another school is why US News called the wait list the “purgatory” of college admissions for the 10 percent of applicants who find themselves with one foot in the door. Your school may even advise you to go ahead with your application process to other schools, notwithstanding that fees are nonrefundable, and you may have to decline an offer of admission elsewhere if you are promoted from the wait list at your preferred college or university.
How Do Schools Send Out Letters?
Regardless of the content, a notification letter can be life-changing: the first step of a dream come true, a hard, painful reality check, or a confusing and deflating message of “wait and see.” Perhaps for that reason (to either soften the blow or celebrate with the new student in a relevant way) the trend among schools is to keep up with the times. A 2012 blog post on Education Week points out that a 2010 survey by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling 37 percent of colleges notify their students of the decision via email, and up to 43 percent asked students to log in to a portal on the school’s website (the school emails students to inform them that a decision has been made). The idea is to make a student feel like an immediate part of the admissions process, as opposed to having to passively (and remotely) wait to hear back.
However, the survey also found that 99 percent of polled schools also sent acceptance or rejection letters via postal mail (in addition to calling, emailing or texting). Some schools, like Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, do it to maintain the traditional relationship and interaction. Others do it so they can simultaneously send relevant admissions documentation.
Some students prefer the old fashioned way too. A student interviewed by USA Today said he loved the tactile feeling of having the acceptance letter in his hands, an experience that cannot be duplicated by an email or a text message.
One disadvantage of upgrading notification methods to electronic means is the increased possibility of erroneous notifications. Bloomberg Businessweek noted that as more schools opt for emailing students regarding the status of their applications, the propensity for mistakes rise. This happened to the legendary Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose admissions office accidentally (but simply) combined two mailing lists, leading thousands of applicants to believe that they had been accepted into one of the most sought-after universities in the world. In their piece, Bloomberg Businessweek made a connection between “the increase in false acceptance letters” and the broader use of email and texting by schools to stay connected with their potential students.
When Do Graduate Schools Send Out Letters?
Unlike undergraduate schools, there is rarely a fixed time when graduate schools start informing their applicants whether or not they’ve been accepted. Some schools send out decisions less than a month after the deadline for applications closes. Since certain schools make interviews a part of the process (and others do not), there is no hard and fast rule for when you can expect to hear back about your application.
The Council of Graduate Schools, a nonprofit higher education organization comprised of over 500 higher education universities across North America adopted a resolution that their member schools would notify applicants in late February or early March but could make an offer to students who were not initially selected as late as mid-April, giving students enough time to process other applications (for financial assistance, for example).
What the Letters Mean
The waitlist letter is the most conflicting of all the three possible letters you can receive. On the one hand, you did everything right: you qualified – you were good enough to get into your school of choice. On the other hand, the school cannot offer you admission yet. Maybe they will, but that depends on someone else turning down their offer.
If you get the waitlist letter, you have a choice: you can either pin your hopes on this happening, that your number will be called if a spot opens up, or you can go ahead with applications to other universities. There is merit to choosing the second option, as you don’t want to miss the window of possibility at other schools because you had your heart set on your initial choice. You may have the option of transferring to your first choice school after a couple semesters/quarters, and having a second chance at applying might let you improve on your first application attempt. So, while the waitlist letter can be frustrating, it is by no means the end of the road.
Whatever your choice, you should remain in touch with the admissions officials at the college. They will contact you when a decision is made, but clearly signaling your intention to attend their college if you are promoted from the waitlist (while keeping your other options alive) could be the difference between making the cut and being passed over.
If the decision finally arrives and it’s not what you’ve been hoping for, the door of your university dreams is not yet closed. Some schools allow for students to ask why, precisely, they were denied matriculation (giving you an opportunity to adapt this information for use in your next college application). A smaller number of schools go so far as to offer an appeal or petition process for rejected applications. For the latter, the burden of proof is on you to prove to the school that they overlooked something in your application, and they should overturn their initial decision because of this error. If this option is available to you, and the one you want to take, you should talk to your student counselor about the best way to present your case. However, time is of the essence, as an appeal would likely have to be submitted by the same deadline as standard applications (and would probably be subject to the same nonrefundable fees).
Similarly, if you sent in your application materials early enough that the university’s application deadline had not yet passed even after they got back to you with a denial, you might still be allowed to reapply (another advantage of applying as early as possible); that said, you should only do this if your second application will be a legitimate improvement upon the first. This differs from the appeal/petition process above, as that assumes that an oversight was made at some point in the process (and not by you); a reapplication is, in effect, a brand new application. Simply submitting the same application material again will just lead to another denial. Make sure you check with the admissions office of your school of choice if this is an option, as some universities have strict policies on not reconsidering a student after turning him or her down, and/or the criteria for re-examining a student is incredibly exclusive.
But what if you get that big bundle in the mail? Now it’s time to actually get to know the school. In an article entitled “What to Do Once You’re Accepted,” Forbes magazine spoke to the vice president of publishing for Princeton Review, who suggested that this would be the time to get to know the culture of the college:
- Talk to other students (prospective, current, and alumni) about their experiences
- Read the school newspaper
- Visit the campus
- Look for blogs and other pieces online about the school
A conversation about finances with your parents, guardians, or sponsors is also appropriate at this time, because paying for college has stopped being just a theoretical discussion.
Remember, even after you get an acceptance letter, you are not obligated to accept the university itself: getting to know the culture and atmosphere of the campus and the general location might make you reconsider. The reality of paying for college can also change the complexion of the whole experience.
Improving Your Chances
Getting into college is fiercely competitive. In 2010, Harvard University received over 30,000 freshman applications, and accepted less than 7 percent of them, per Forbes magazine. Part of the reason for the exclusivity (aside from it being Harvard University) is that college admissions officials are looking for more than students who just fill out the forms. A college consultant speaking to Forbes said that schools want students with potential – students who will change the college by being a genuinely different.
To that effect, schools are looking for candidates who stand out in their communities. What have you done in your hometown that’s brought originality, creativity, and inspiration to life? Because if you’ve done something special wherever you call home, then there’s a good chance that you’ll do something special in the place you’re going to call home for the next four years.
But it’s important to put your nose to the grindstone too. US News spotlights the necessity of simply applying early to make a good (and immediate) first impression on the school, and also to give yourself enough time to respond if the application doesn’t go your way. For that reason, it’s also necessary to focus your search. Speaking to US News, a high school director of guidance said that potential students are better off being an exceptional candidate to a smaller number of schools than an average candidate to a larger number of schools. Choose your battles.
There is an art to getting into college, and waiting for an acceptance letter is part of that complicated dance. Luckily for you, SimpleTuition can provide you with the resources, information, and help you need to prepare the best application packet you can. We also offer advice on what to do when waiting for, and after receiving, your college acceptance letter. Browse our site for more information.
The Differences Between Public and Private Colleges
He’s been accepted at two colleges, so far. I don’t even know if our son will look any further. We have one public and one private in our sights. If all else fails and we can’t find the money for either one, two community colleges sit less than 20 minutes from our front door.
But until any decisions are made, it’s interesting to see the differences already being displayed by private and public institutions – when it comes to upfront fees and attentiveness — once you are admitted.
I may be a little prejudiced since I graduated from a midwestern liberal arts, private college. But even our son is noticing that the private college seems to be a little more devoted to wooing him to pick their small, quaint campus. Each week, he gets at least one correspondence from that school. They send him invites for visits – which we will be doing in a month — information about upcoming events on the campus and encouraging letters from students, alumni and faculty.
The real clincher is when they asked him to reserve a dorm room and asked his preferences, they didn’t ask for a dime. They haven’t asked for anything. In fact, he got to enroll free of charge.
The questions for his room and roommate preferences were pretty extensive with inquiries about his hobbies, sleeping and eating schedules, and more.
OK. I know the state university is big. And they don’t have time to baby-sit the freshmen. But when we filled out his residence hall housing application there, they barely asked any questions about what kind of person he was and what he was looking for in a roommate. Plus, you had to pay $120 up front to save a spot. We’ll get $100 back if he decides not to go there, if we remember to send them a written letter requesting the money back. In addition to that, they’ve sent at least three letters requesting Scott send $185 for an enrollment fee. That too is refundable prior to May 1.
For a family who lives paycheck to paycheck because of two self-employed parents, an extra $305 paid out to a university right away can be a big expense – especially since we don’t know if he’s going there. Just to apply at this Big 10 school was $40.
Scott doesn’t have a clue, at this point, which one he is favoring. But he also knows that the decision will be made once the financial aid process is complete and we know what type of help we will be getting.
That’s a scary situation for us. We can’t just come up with $10,000 or even $5,000 right now. Farming sounds like a very profitable business in the midst of record-priced corn. But no one seems to remember that everything else went up in price that makes farming a struggle for the small, independent farmer.
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