Hurry Up… And Wait: A Guide to Acceptance Letters

Students anxiously scurry through my office. “Why haven’t I received my acceptance letter yet?” “Carlos got his acceptance letter already and I didn’t, is there something wrong with my application?”

It’s the time of year when students are nervously awaiting their acceptance letters from all of the colleges they applied to this fall.

I affectionately refer to this process as “Hurry up… and wait.”

My students worked hard during the fall semester to get their college applications turned in. They finalized their college lists. They wrote their college essays and supplemental essays. They wrote resumes. They sought out recommendation letters from their teachers. They filled out their FAFSA applications.

During this entire process, I warned them. “I know there is a lot to do with college applications. I know it’s overwhelming. This is what I like to call hurry up… and wait. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff we need to do right now to get your college applications together. So the next few months are going to be very busy. But after you get your college applications turned in, you just get to sit back and relax and wait for the acceptance letters to come in.”

“And that’s the most difficult part, believe it or not” I continued. “Waiting for them to email you, knowing you can’t do anything but wait and be patient. That’s the hardest part.”

Waiting is always the hardest part. You want to get your decision back as soon as possible. You want to know whether you got accepted or not. You want that instant gratification.

Unfortunately, that just isn’t how the college admissions process works. Admissions teams take time to go through everyone’s application, meticulously deciding whether to enroll them or not. As a senior in high school, you need to wait until they make their decision.

Here are a few tips to help you as you wait it out:

1. Apply Early Decision/Early Action:

Is there a dream school that you absolutely love, and if you got accepted you know you would definitely go there? Applying early is a good choice for you. You get your decision much earlier than other students. If you’re accepted? Congratulations! You just got into your dream school! Rejected from early admission? They will simply roll your application into regular admissions.

Early decision means you are fully committing to a college. You sign a contract saying if you get accepted, you must go there. Early action means you apply early and hear back about a decision early, but you are not contractually bound to go to that college.

Students who apply early are much more likely to be admitted to their dream college — a LOT more likely. Dartmouth, an Ivy League university, goes from a 6 percent admissions rate for regular admissions, to a 25 percent admissions rate for early decision students. Macalaster College, a highly selective liberal arts college, goes from a 30 percent acceptance rate for regular admissions to a 60 percent acceptance rate for early decision. That’s one of many reasons to consider applying early.

2. Did you send everything in?

If you sent in your application to schools a long time ago, and you still haven’t heard back, it might be worth checking your online application to see if it’s missing anything. The college you applied to might be waiting on something from your end before they can proceed with your application.

Are you sure your college counselor sent in your transcripts? Are you sure all of your professors sent in their letters of recommendation?

Double check with everybody to make sure that all of your application materials have been sent in. Look back over your application. Check your email to see if you’ve received anything from the college stating that they need additional materials from you before they can move your application forward.

3. Rolling vs Regular admissions:

Be sure you understand the different policies each college you applied to has regarding their admission process. There’s two types of admissions: rolling admissions, and regular admissions.

Rolling admissions means they have an admissions team that looks at applications as they come in, and sends out a decision as soon as possible. For colleges with a rolling admissions process, you won’t have to wait very long to hear back. You might hear back as soon as a couple weeks after you apply!

Regular admissions colleges have a deadline that they want students to apply by. They won’t look at any applications until that deadline. Once that deadline has passed, they will look at all of the applications they received, and make a decision about which students to accept. This is a much more common method than rolling admissions.

Because you have to wait for the admissions team to look over everybody’s application, this process takes longer. Students typically hear back from colleges throughout the months of January, February and March.

4. Check your email:

Some students have a habit of not checking their email very often. Make sure you are checking your email every day. Your acceptance letter could arrive any moment!

Are you one of those people who has an email inbox with thousands of unread emails? Make sure you are using an email that you read through regularly, and that isn’t used for spam emails of any kind. You don’t want to miss an acceptance letter because it got lost in a sea of spam emails.

4. Be patient:

It truly is a matter of being patient. It can be difficult not knowing what a college’s decision will be. You just need to know that you did your absolute best, and submitted an application that showed off your skills and talents to the best of your ability. Now, it’s time to wait. In the meantime, work on your senior year classes, and getting good grades.

Your acceptance letters will be here soon!