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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/21/2010

The panic over 'missing' application documents

By Valerie Strauss

This scene has been happening in a lot of homes where high school seniors are awaiting college admission decisions:

An envelope from a college is in the mail stack and is immediately ripped open. Inside is a letter that says the application--the one you thought was complete--may be missing some documents. Sometimes the document is specified, and sometimes it isn’t.

You panic and either call the high school counseling office the second it opens or send your child in to resolve the supposed problem.

The counselor sighes, saying that in fact all the documents have been sent and the college is probably behind in filing.

Now, clearly there are times when documents ARE missing. They either haven't been sent by the high school, were lost in the mail or somehow not yet properly filed by the receiving college. Stuff happens. Colleges won't penalize applicants for mistakes that an adult makes in this process.

But it is also true that colleges and universities often send out these letters without actually knowing if the files are in.

This seems to be happening now more than in years past, according to anecdotal reports from high school counselors, some of whom have sent messages to college admissions officers asking them to hold off on sending these notes to applicants unless they are sure the documents really are missing.

So if you get one of these letters--and you should expect to get one--don’t come unglued and start yelling at your child’s high school counselor.

The odds are good that they’ve done what they were supposed to and nothing is actually missing. And if something has gone astray, it can be remedied with no penalty.

Here's some advice from the College Board, and you can find more here:

*Keep hard copies of every part of the application that your child is responsible for submitting.

*Save postal or electronic proof that the application and material has been sent, such as a confirmation email or an assigned tracking number. Print out a hard copy, too.

*Tell your child to ask those people writing his/her recommendations to keep copies of the letters.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 21, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions  
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Wow, this bring back memories. Virginia Tech lost my application when I applied in 1994. Thankfully, I had saved the pertinent information listed above (mail confirmation, hard copies of application, etc) and sent it to the Board of Admissions.

- Hokie alumni of the college of engineering.

Posted by: slydell | February 21, 2010 9:26 AM | Report abuse

I have worked for five years in college admissions at a University in the local area and we admissions officers personally e-mail applicants who are "missing" documents after carefully checking to make sure that they are not indeed in the applicant's file. I have also rewritten my e-mail multiple times over the years to apologize to the college counselors as I know in many cases that they are indeed "resending" the documents and that our office has somehow lost or misplaced them. This subtle change to the wording of the e-mail has made all the difference in the way that both students and counselors alike react to these communications.

And I echo the sentiments in the blog posting, that students/counselors should retain hard or electronic copies of all documents because this makes for an easy fax or e-mail exchange between college counselor and admissions officer to quickly remedy the problem and to get the student's file sent to committee.

Posted by: MsHologram | February 21, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I don't know how it would work for undergraduate applications, but for grad school applications, I checked with the office they were sent to a few days before the deadline to verify that they had received everything.

Posted by: jlhare1 | February 21, 2010 10:28 AM | Report abuse

The HS my daughter attends provided us the docs (per our request) in a sealed envelope with the name of the school on the outside and WE mailed them. That worked out very good, we applied to 5 schools and didn't have anything go missing.

Posted by: eaglechik | February 21, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

This happens with graduate school applications, as well. I know a number of college seniors who have been told that their applications are incomplete, and especially that they lack recommendation letters or forms, when everyone is dead certain that the documents have been mailed, faxed, or e-mailed, as required. In several cases in the past few weeks, the graduate programs have been forced to admit that they had either failed to check all the relevant mail or had somehow misfiled the documents. This is really inexcusable and unprofessional behavior.

Posted by: tfdill | February 21, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I have worked in secondary schools in college guidance for 20+ years. Last week, every day, a senior forwarded an email from a college re "missing documents". In my counseling sessions I warn students & parents to expect these because of the crush of documents in the college offices. In every instance I had electronic proof that the documents were sent; we upload our documents electronically. Even more, I had emails from the same colleges acknowledging the receipt of the documents & stating that the seniors' applications were complete! Every college admitted & apologized for the mistake. Parents & seniors, please do not make angry calls or verbally assault your counselors on the assumption that the colleges' emails are accurate. The senior, not the parent, should politely bring it to your counselor's attention. The counselor will happily verify the mailing or uploading date & will follow-up with the college. As for giving documents to parents in sealed envelopes, NO! I've have too many parents open the envelopes in a determiniation to read confidential recommendations. If you cannot trust the college counselor you should move to another high school. The electronic uploading of documents is here to stay. It is safe, reliable & provides certification to all parties of document submission.

Posted by: jadams4 | February 21, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

College admission is a two way process, one has to remember. If a school can't get its together, is it worth going there?
How about choosing college that takes better of the applicant to be student?
Talented students should expect more, if they don't get it, try some body else.

Posted by: peterroach | February 21, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Can it be true that the 'no'files letters
arrive to harrass the hopefuls?
No wonder the colleges are turning out dolts.

Irresponsible. Careless and arrogant. And stupid.

Posted by: whistling | February 21, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

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