• Mr. Jeff Neill

What If A College Reports Missing Application Materials?


Q: What do I do if one of my colleges reports that some of my application materials are missing but I already applied?


A: This time of year, it is commonplace for students to learn that parts of their applications are missing. A couple years back, at a different school where I worked, on average, every student in the senior class reported materials missing at one college at least; however, except in one case, everything had been submitted on time and was there in the possession of the college in question. (That one exception was a student who had applied to a college but never told his counselor; in the end, the materials were sent, and the student was admitted. The lesson: be sure to check the accuracy of your Cialfo list!) Unfortunately, despite all of the wonderful things that technology brings, there are setbacks, and one of them seems to be that all of the software does not always work well with each other. These reports of missing materials are seldom reflective of any truth or reality regarding negligence. They are merely obstacles that need to be navigated. They do require your attention so that any hiccups can be remedied, which sometimes is required despite the fact that no one has done anything wrong. As such, spare the finger-pointing and know what to do. So, here are some thoughts if you receive notice that materials are missing…

  • First, do not panic. We are professionals and can help you with whatever situation presents itself. Have faith, though, that we have done all that we need to in order to support you fully. The report you are receiving of missing materials is most likely a mistake or an unavoidable error that we can absolutely work to fix.

  • Check your application software and portals to ensure that you actually submitted your application. There are two primary culprits here: first, sometimes students get to the payment page of the application (e.g. Common Application), pay, and then log out, not realizing that they need to go back to the application now that payment has been submitted and finalized the submission process; and, second, on the Common Application, some schools include a “supplement” section that needs to be submitted independently after the main Common Application is submitted and payment is made. The best way to check here is to examine your “dashboard” and to make sure that you have green check-marks instead of orange dots next to every application you have submitted.

  • Missing Portal. When you apply, you will receive notice, usually quickly, of how to check the status of your application, typically in today’s day and age through an online portal. If you do not get this sort of access, be patient. If you do not get any notification or confirmation of a completed application within a week, you need to reach out to the college or university. CC your counselor.

  • Missing Materials. When you get access to your portal, check for completion. If materials are missing immediately after you log on, wait 48 hours and check again; usually, the report of missing materials will have been cleared without any action. However, if the issue persists, notify your college counselor, and he/she will contact the college directly to reconcile the issue. Realize that this can take a day or two, so be sure to be far ahead of any deadlines when you submit to avoid additional anxiety. (Also keep in mind that colleges typically have a later deadline for supporting materials than they do for the student application; we at ISD endeavor never to take advantage of this and to submit our supporting documents in advance of the deadline, though.)

  • Keep in mind that the report of missing materials can come in several ways: an email to your college counselor, an email to you, a note posted on your portal (access to which you are often granted after applying), or an old-fashioned mailed notice. Regardless of the method of communication, be sure to read carefully and remain calm. As suggested previously, though the communication can come across as alarming or frightening, the data and our experience suggest that you will be just fine in the long run. (One note of caution: many college application systems are automated and send an email shortly after processing the student’s side of the application, typically 24-48 hours after submission; these emails often include a report of which materials are still missing. In some cases, we have not actually yet sent the materials because we were waiting for you to submit, but in others, we have sent the materials, but the colleges’ systems do not always recognize what documents are already there right away. As a result, if you have just submitted the application, we recommend checking the portal/status again 48 hours later before trying to fix things. This is another reason why we recommend applying far in advance of application deadlines…)

  • Be sure to communicate directly with your college counselor and update Cialfo immediately after submitting any application: send us a quick email sharing where you applied and update the status of your applications on Cialfo.

  • Finally, apply two weeks in advance of posted deadlines; this provides ample time to reconcile any reports of missing materials ahead of the deadline.

There is no doubt that this can be a nerve-wracking process. That said, keep a level head, trust the process, and communicate effectively, and you will be fine!

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