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The Pre-Decision Pause: Waiting On College Application Results

Picture of Meredith Graham
By Meredith Graham on December, 10 2020 | 5 minute read

Look at you, getting your college applications done and submitted! Congratulations! I’m really proud of you.

Thank you—I’m pretty proud of my work and my applications, too. So, what’s next?

Well…now we wait.

I’m sorry, what?

Yep! For all of your hard work and dedication to your college journey, you are rewarded with a break. A chance to wait patiently for a response from the colleges.

No offense, but that doesn’t seem like much of a reward.

I know. And I’m not gonna lie, waiting patiently for a response is an incredibly difficult task. There are scores of songs written about waiting, about being patient. Many religious traditions also talk about patience and waiting, about the challenge and the importance of those practices. Personally, I think people wouldn’t write and sing about it so much if it were easy.

So why do I have to wait so long for an answer?

If you’ve applied to a college that offers admission on a rolling basis, you might not have to wait too long. These colleges make decisions on completed applications as soon as they realistically can, and they send out admissions decisions to students as they make them, rather than holding onto them for a particular date. It might be a few days, it might be a few weeks, but it will probably be “sooner rather than later” for these colleges. It’s in their best interest to let you know quickly, truth be told—they can show you lots of love now, which makes it more likely that you’ll say yes back to them and commit to their college. And given how uncertain enrollment numbers are at colleges right now, anything they can do to get students to say yes to them is a bonus.

But if you’ve applied somewhere that doesn’t make decisions on a rolling basis, it could be a while before you hear back. Right now, colleges with Early Action, Early Decision, or Regular Decision application pools are reviewing all of the pieces of the applications you worked so hard to put together. And it takes time for them to review the applications and make decisions. It’s a seriously tough job, and this year it’s more complicated because of the pandemic.

According to our friends at Fairtest, more than 2/3 of four-year colleges and universities are test optional this year, and many of them are test optional for the very first time, which means they’re doing something new in the middle of a pandemic. The colleges have to figure out how to ensure that their admissions teams are making fair and equitable decisions for all applicants who don’t submit test scores, and in ways that still support their college’s priorities and culture. So if you’re UCLA and you had nearly 109,000 applications last year, you have to figure out how to review a similar number of applications this year without SAT or ACT scores and still make smart and UCLA-worthy decisions on the same timetable you had last year. Trust me when I say this isn’t easy.

I hadn’t thought about the work that folks in admission offices are doing—that sounds tough. So, what do I do now?

Waiting for an admission decision is hard enough in regular years without the pandemic, but this year, my standard suggestions of staying busy, trying new things, and getting out of the house and away from your phone and computer don’t necessarily work very well. We’ve got to switch things up a bit. Here’s what I suggest from a practical standpoint:

  • Make sure you check your college portals about once a week, and check your email at least twice a week. This way, if a college updates a release date or sends you a question about your application, you’ll know about it fairly quickly. The most common kind of message you’ll get is “the college is missing a part of your application!” If you get one of these, PLEASE DON’T PANIC, and please don’t flip out at your school counselor! These are usually automated messages, and it’s not unusual for this message to get to you before a college has processed all of the application pieces that they’ve received. It can take a long time for colleges to match all of the pieces of all the applications together—check out USC’s blog post on the early life of a college application to see what I mean. Calmly reconfirm that you, your recommenders, and your school counselor have submitted all required parts of your application, then keep checking the portal. If the college gives you specific instructions and timeline for following up, use those (thank you, MIT!). If they don't, though, and your application still isn’t marked as “complete” about a week or so after you get that scary email from the college, then consider reaching out to the college to see if they’re still working through a backlog of materials. If they say they’re all caught up, work with them to figure out where the missing piece of your application ended up—chances are good it was accidentally linked into someone else’s file, and it’s a quick fix. 
  • Make sure not to obsess over your email or the portals. I know, I know, I just told you to check them regularly, but you’re likely to make yourself a little loopy if you check them too frequently.
  • Keep your grades up in your classes. Trust me on this one. If you’re deferred from an Early Action or Early Decision pool to Regular Decision, the colleges will absolutely want to see your fall grades as they’re making final decisions about your application, and those grades really can make a difference! And if you’re admitted via Early Action or Early Decision, colleges still care about your grades—it’s a horrible, horrible feeling to have to rescind a student’s admission if their grades tank in the spring of their senior year. And it feels even worse to be that student. Please don’t let that be you!

And from an existential standpoint:

  • Make sure to get offline and unplug a bit. Get some exercise, read, talk to a family member, sing…just do something that’s not online. The pandemic will eventually end. Don’t forget about the world beyond your computer.
  • Remember how proud you are of the applications you put together. You did a fantastic job with them, and now that you’ve sent them off, you can’t control what happens when they’re reviewed by the colleges.
  • Have faith in yourself, your abilities, your strength, and your resilience. No matter what the college admissions decisions are, you’re going to be okay.

Thanks for the pep talk.



About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self - whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counselingtest prepacademic tutoring, and essay management, all with the support of our proprietary platform, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates. 

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