Question: My guidance counselor sent my transcripts and recommendations four weeks ago. Why haven't they been received?
My best guess is that your materials are gathering dust in an admission office pile, waiting to be properly entered in the school's computer system. In other words, they did arrive safely but haven't been coded yet. So they may still be showing up as missing, if you're checking online or even calling to track them down.
But you are definitely smart to stay on top of this. Ultimately it is your responsibility to make sure that all application materials reached their destination. Some colleges allow you to track this on the Web with a PIN; some notify you by email or postcard if there are missing credentials. But some do nothing at all, and you may not know that your application is "incomplete" until you receive no admission decision in the spring. :(
Thus, unless you are certain (due to Web site notification, email, postcard, etc.) that your application and all required materials have been received, you should telephone admission offices to find out.
I always tell seniors to allow about two weeks after sending all materials before phoning. Even if the deadline has passed by then, if you have missing credentials you may be asked to replace them right away but you won't be penalized for being late ... as long as you comply promptly.
In your case, however, it's been four weeks, which does seem like a long enough time to prompt some worrying. What I can't tell from your question is if you've already phoned the admission office (or offices, if you're talking about multiple colleges) or if you're just tracking your materials online. After this much time, it's certainly appropriate to pick up the phone. The person you speak with (probably a secretary) may tell you that the office is swamped and that you shouldn't yet be concerned. He or she may ask you to wait a few more days and then call back. So just be sure that you do follow-up and that you are prepared to replace what is missing if it still hasn't turned up when you call again.
1) Follow-up is critical to make sure all materials arrived
2) Don't panic if you're told at first that materials are missing. It happens all the time.
Finally, I'm assuming that you're not an international student living overseas. Documents that are snail-mailed from outside the U.S. can take a long time to reach admission offices and then be processed. In any case, if you haven't done so already, double-check with your school counselor to see if you can find out exactly when everything was mailed. Your counselor may even volunteer to make the follow-up calls for you, but you'd still be wise to take charge of this yourself. Happy hunting!
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