Waiting for College Decision Letters: Tips for Students and Parents

Last updated: Mar 13, 2018

Aside from the gut punch that college rejection letters can deliver, the hardest part of the application process is waiting for college decision letters to arrive. So how do you ease the pain? Using the time wisely can ease the stress and even boost your chances of getting application responses that open with one word: “Congratulations!”

The top tip for students and parents waiting for college decision letters is, in a word, “action.” Students should advance the process whenever and wherever possible. Parents should be there to constantly support and quietly lead by example.

Tips for Students

March and April are when many of the anxiously awaited letters roll in, but don’t just blindly wait for the mailman. Use all available online tools to track your application. If you don’t know where or how to track the process, ask the admissions office.

Monitor the Process, and Tweak It Where Possible

Each college is different and has a varying approach to the application process. Some colleges focus mainly on academics, such as grades and test scores. However, some colleges consider letters of recommendation, essays and other supplemental materials in addition to academics. Despite the college, it's likely you'll have a waiting period for decision letters. This waiting period can be time well spent if you can take a few more easy steps:

  • Make sure your most recent grades are forwarded to your college picks
  • Consider sending a letter to update admissions offices on any noteworthy recent academic accomplishments or personal news that could affect their decision*
  • Identify a senior-year teacher who could weigh in with an additional letter of recommendation that could boost your chances*
  • Determine whether your picks have an alumni interview process for candidates, learn how it works and request an interview if necessary*

These last-minute efforts serve a purpose beyond what is obvious. According to Peterson’s, “Continued interest, along with strong academic performance, are two key factors colleges are looking for from you at this stage, and it may help with the admissions decision.”

*Not all colleges consider these materials as part of the application review process. Most colleges that look at academic grades and test scores will not review supplemental materials unless they have asked for them specifically.

Remain Focused on What You Can Control

When it comes to staying calm while waiting for college decision letters, try to recognize and accept what you can’t control. Beyond that, the best strategy is to focus on what you can do:

  • Make contingency plans. Know what you will do if your top picks don’t pan out.
  • Don’t let your high school grades slide. A focus on academics is how you got this far, so don’t stumble now.
  • Read about the schools you have applied to and the communities they call home. You might learn something applicable to the admissions process or college culture that could cause a change of heart on your first pick.
  • Line up a summer job to bolster your college savings account, and let your school picks know if you get a job related to your academic plans.
  • Find time to add to your community service portfolio. If you need ideas, there are groups such as DoSomething.org that can inspire you.

If it’s been a few weeks since the applications went out and you haven’t heard from some of the schools, don’t be passive. Contact them. The focus on college-related issues might not help you forget the admissions drama, but it can reduce stress by helping you feel as though you have some control.

A mother and daughter review summer jobs on a tablet.

Do’s and Don’ts for Parents

Students have an active role in the admissions process that can give them a sense of control. No such luck for parents. In fact, sometimes doing and saying nothing is the daunting task at hand for moms and dads who want to help advance the process.

Some Don’ts for Parents

  • Don’t badger the admissions offices. It won’t help, and it can actually hurt.
  • Don’t share admissions news without your child’s say-so. That news is hers/his to share or withhold.
  • Don’t become visibly overwrought; it won’t help anybody.
  • Don’t press your student for information he or she either doesn’t have or isn’t ready to share.
  • Don’t touch that unopened letter or email. It isn’t yours.

Some Do’s for Parents

  • Do listen and ask questions, with a focus on good listening.
  • Do cheer when acceptance letters arrive.
  • Do prepare to offer advice when it is sought and remain silent when it isn’t.
  • Do ask your child before discussing his or her college plans with others.
  • Do let your child lead the way. It’s time.

Whether you’re a parent or student, don’t let the process overwhelm you, but do celebrate one of the most important and exciting experiences you’ll share. At the end of the day, with the clock ticking slowly forward, it’s worth remembering that you can’t hurry the process along, but you can try to make good use of the downtime.

If you have questions about the application or admissions process at USF, you can get answers by contacting the Office of Admissions online or by calling us at 813-974-3350.