Help! My Counselor Reference is Missing Post-Deadline!

Question: Yesterday I called my first-choice college to make sure they have all my application stuff. (Deadline was Jan. 15, nearly two weeks ago). I was told that my guidance counselor reference is missing. My counselor said she sent it right after the vacation, so I’m pretty freaked out. She said she could send another one, but I’m worried that this will hurt my admission chances. Will it? Should I contact all my other colleges to make sure that her reference isn’t missing there, too?

We’ve all heard of the “January Thaw,” which those of us in the Northeast look forward to each year (though, so far, we’re still seeing single-digit lows here in New England). But there’s also a “”January Panic.” That’s when seniors learn that critical components of their applications have not arrived in admission offices even though deadlines have passed.

Much of this panic is caused by the colleges themselves. It can sometimes take weeks for all materials to be properly filed and documented, yet students and school counselors may be notified nonetheless that application pieces are missing, but without being advised that everything has not yet been entered in the school’s tracking system.

So, if you find out that your application materials aren’t where they’re supposed to be, try not to panic, but do spring into action:

1) Ask an admissions office staff member if you should wait a few days (and, if yes, how long) or replace the materials pronto. Get the name of the person you spoke with and record it, along with the time and day of the conversation.

2) If the answer is “Wait,” then call back on the appointed date. You may be relieved to find out that the missing item has miraculously appeared. If not, then it’s time to re-submit it.

3) If the missing materials are those that were (allegedly) sent by others (transcripts, references, etc.), then do double-check (as politely as possible) to make sure that they were really submitted (and when). You should also mention the possibility of a re-send in a few days, if the stuff doesn’t show up soon.

Although application deadlines may now be behind you, you will not be penalized for late materials that went missing, as long as you respond promptly. And, remember, it is up to YOU to make sure that your applications are complete. Some colleges make this easy by providing PIN-protected tracking options on their Web sites or by sending confirmations through the mail or via e-mail. But, in many cases, it’s best to bite the bullet and telephone the admission offices, if you haven’t already heard that all is well. So, yes, I’m afraid you should call all of your other schools to see if your counselor reference arrived.

Also in your case, since your counselor has already offered to send another reference to your top-choice college, you might as well accept her offer, even though there’s a good chance that the college in question will find it eventually. Put her on alert to re-submit it to your other schools, too, if you find out that it’s also missing elsewhere. Sure, it’s likely that all of these schools may end up with two identical references, but—assuming that it’s a glowing one—that might actually work in your favor. ;)