Most selective colleges will release their remaining admissions decisions by the end of March or sooner. For some high school seniors, they submitted their applications in the fall. A lot can change during that time. Students wonder if they should check in or update the colleges where they applied.
It is a natural tendency for students to want to do this, especially if they would love to be admitted there. But many colleges are getting very particular about how they want to receive new information. Here is a foolproof guide on when and how you should reach out to the colleges where you applied:
- Read the application instructions very carefully. Sometimes colleges have very specific instructions for updating them after a student submits their application. For example, some colleges put into their deferral letters that deferred students may only submit one update after being deferred and it must be submitted through the admissions portal, not email. Part of the reason behind this approach is that they don’t want students contacting them regularly after their application is submitted. But even if a student didn't get deferred and applied through the regular round, they should be thoughtful about sending in additional materials. If a student is going to send an update or add something to their application, it should be well thought out and well written.
- Follow the instructions to a tee. Admissions officers don't want to read a ton of additional materials. If a student doesn't follow the instructions or sends too much, it can easily annoy the admissions officer. Less is more when it comes to additional updates after the application is submitted.
- When a student's status changes, update the college immediately. If there is a significant change related to home address, financial aid, or even citizenship, students should update the college immediately. Even if the college only permits one update and the student used that opportunity already, status changes can affect admissions decisions and therefore are necessary. If the portal doesn't permit an additional update, the student or the school counselor should call or email the admissions office using the main phone number or main email account. For example, if a student receives their green card (and becomes a permanent resident of the US), they should contact all the colleges where they applied. Because some colleges limit the number of international students or have limited financial aid for international students, this update can impact the admissions decision.
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- Getting an additional honor or new leadership role can sometimes make the difference, so let those colleges know. If the student plays a spring sport at their high school and was recently elected captain of their team, letting the colleges know could certainly help. Similarly, if a student received an award, especially a national award, this could enhance their chances of admission. If the college permits updates, the student should write a short, to the point, message indicating the new leadership role or honor they received. Remember to keep it short and sweet, though. Let the title or award speak for itself unless it needs an explanation.
- If a college is your first choice, it might be worth telling them. Most colleges factor in a student's interest in them as part of the admissions process. The reality is that colleges want their yield rate (the percentage of students who accept the offer of admission) to be as high as possible. Even the colleges that don't formally track "demonstrated interest" often wonder how committed a student is to them. If one college is your top choice and you would enroll if admitted, it might be worth letting them know in a formal message. It need not be long, but the message should be clear about your intentions and the reasons why. Just make sure to follow their instructions on updates while you're doing it.
Students have a small window to positively impact their admissions decision. Make sure all of your updates are in by mid-February unless there is a late-breaking change after that. Most selective colleges begin the committee process around mid-February. Students will want the admissions committee to know of any updates before they make a final decision on their application.
One of the best pieces of advice is to try to understand the receiving end of these updates and follow-up letters. Most admissions officers are working around the clock to read hundreds (sometimes thousands) of applications right now, and they need to process admissions decisions on every application they receive. Sending in a lot of extraneous materials will only aggravate them. If a student is allowed to send an update, they should be judicious with this opportunity. Limit what you send and make sure every word counts!