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Articles / Applying to College / Are Colleges Responsible for Missing Application Materials?

Are Colleges Responsible for Missing Application Materials?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | March 8, 2019
Are Colleges Responsible for Missing Application Materials?

I am so frustrated. I submitted all my materials to my top choice in November -- long before the January deadline. I am part of a College Confidential group where people announce whether they got in or not, and I saw that decisions started rolling out last week, and everyone seemed to have heard by yesterday except me. I called the admissions office and they said they were missing my SAT scores and transcript. I said I not only have digital proof that I submitted them in November, but also wondered why the school didn't notify me that anything was missing. This is a small program within the school and there is no separate application portal for it, so I wasn't able to track it the way you can normally do with a standard application. (For clarity, I was accepted to the university itself in the fall but was waiting to see if I got into this program, which only takes 25 kids). Anyway, they told me the person who makes the decisions is out of town at the moment but asked me to submit digital proof that I sent in my materials and they'll see if she will review it next week. Is this legal for them to just disregard my so-called incomplete application? What recourse do I have if they say they already accepted 25 students and I'm out of luck? Thank you.

I feel your frustration! You thought you'd met a deadline by miles and yet your test scores and transcript are still Missing in Action. However, “The Dean" has warned students for decades that it is YOUR responsibility -- and not the college's -- to make sure that all materials arrive safely. Admission offices are not obligated to notify their candidates when application components don't show up. If the student doesn't receive confirmation that an application is complete (via a portal, email, etc.), the student should follow up. You cannot take legal action against the college.

But what confuses me is this: You said that you are already admitted to the university at large and are just awaiting acceptance into a small program within it. SO ... if you were accepted by the college, they must have received your SAT scores and transcript, right? When you called the admission office, did you speak with your regional admissions representative (the staff member who oversees applicants from your high school) or with someone else -- perhaps a receptionist or secretary? If you didn't speak directly with your regional rep, I suggest that you call again and insist (nicely!) on talking to him or her. Explain that you were told yesterday that your test scores and transcript never arrived but yet they MUST have arrived since you've already been accepted by the university, just not by the special program.

If, however, you were supposed to submit your scores and transcript to the program separately, that's a different story. As I noted above, it is the student's responsibility to confirm receipt. Although most materials do arrive safely, there are times when they get lost in the shuffle, and it is not the university's duty to report this. So if you were supposed to send your materials straight to the program and they've vanished, you'll just have to forward the digital proof of submission and wait for the return of the decision-maker. If the university's admissions reps do find that the fault is on THEIR end, hopefully they will do the right thing and give your application full consideration, regardless of how many students have already been accepted to the program.

If this situation doesn't work out as you hope, write back and we'll talk about next steps ... but litigation won't be among them because, ultimately, it is up to YOU to make certain that your application was complete.


If you'd like to submit a question to College Confidential, please send it along here.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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