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Articles / Applying to College / Must College Notify Applicant of Missing Document?

Must College Notify Applicant of Missing Document?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | April 5, 2014

Question: Is a university required to adhere to the admissions policy published on its website? My daughter applied to a specific major that required a supplement. She submitted the supplement, but the university now claims they never received it. On the admissions page, the policy states:“If anything is missing from your application file, we will offer you a limited window in which to provide the outstanding information.”

However, the university never informed her that her application was incomplete. They rejected her on the basis of an incomplete application and now refuse to review the matter. They have completely dismissed her. Other kids received notifications that their applications were incomplete. My daughter did not receive any notification and as a result, she was denied the same opportunity to present a full application. This selective notification seems discriminatory and it definitely violates the stated admissions policy on the university website. Is there any recourse here? Is a university required to fulfill the stated admissions policy as presented on its website? Any advice is appreciated.

“The Dean” always tells students in her purview that it is their responsibility to confirm that all admission materials have been received, and it is not the college’s duty to inform them of missing materials.

However, the entire admissions process is very stressful and confusing. Teenagers (and even their parents) often don’t realize that policies vary from one college to the next. While some colleges do not alert applicants to incomplete files, many do. So it is easy to understand why college applicants would expect such notification and would assume that all is in order, if they haven’t heard otherwise.

The Web message you cited is ambiguous. It says that students will be given time to resubmit missing materials and thus it implies that the college will tell students when their files are not complete, but it doesn’t actually say so.

I instruct students to call each admission office about two weeks after submitting all materials to make sure that everything arrived safely. I also assure them that, if the answer is, “No,” that the college will give them a little time to replace whatever is missing. But I make it clear that it is up to the student to ascertain whether or not materials must be replaced.

I can certainly understand your frustration. Although the college never claims that students will be notified of missing documents, I can see how anyone could come to that conclusion from reading the language on the Website. But I actually don’t feel that the college misrepresented its protocol … it just didn’t spell it out clearly.

So here’s what your daughter should do: She should email the chair of the program she’d hoped to enroll in and explain the situation, quoting the text from the Web site. She should send a copy of the missing supplement (or recreate it if she didn’t save a copy … which hopefully she did). She should include her transcript, test scores, and any other pertinent information that suggests that she is a strong candidate for this program. She should also provide reasons why this program is a great fit for her … and vice versa … and politely ask the program chair to lobby for her acceptance with the admission folks. If your daughter doesn’t get a response in a week, she should try a phone call because time is of the essence.

It’s unlikely that the university will reconsider your daughter, but it’s worth a shot. Unfortunately, while the university officials were not helpful or thoughtful in this matter, they didn’t do anything that is technically illegal or even unethical. But I wish your daughter well in her appeal. I also hope that, if it doesn’t work out, she will land somewhere else and will realize that it was where she was meant to be all along.


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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