Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Happy New Year!  I hope you all had a very restful and joyous holiday.  The start of the new year brings with it lots of hope and excitement, along with many resolutions (one of mine is to keep to a more regular schedule with this blog!). It also brings us back to the stress of applying to college and for many of you, the anxiety of waiting for your decision.

About 1500 of our 4000-plus Early Action applicants received their acceptance letter before the holidays and I heard from many of you about how excited and relieved you were to hear the good news before your break.  For the rest of you, the wait continues and it is hard to understand sometimes why some hear before and others not until after.  I have heard from some of you, too, and in this post I want to try and explain what's been happening on our side of the process and what "not hearing" really  means.

Like many schools across the country, USD is experiencing a large increase in the number of students who have applied early.  For us, we have 15% more early applications than we did last year.  That's good news - sort of - but it does create some logistical challenges for us.  Because our deadline is the same - November 15th - and the Christmas holiday is still in the same place on the calendar, there are fewer days to review a whole lot more applications.

When you hit submit on the Common Application (CA), that's when our processing of your file begins.  Each day, we go to the CA site and download all the applications that were submitted the day before.  There is a process that then loads all the data into our computer system, creating an application record for you, assigning an ID number, and records what we have received.  Some of the documents we need come to us from different sources - your high school transcript and test scores, for example.  Sometimes these come in electronically, other times through the mail and sometimes they actually arrive in our office before your application does.  Our staff pours through thousands of documents each day and tries to match up all those materials and record each record.  Once all the required documents are received and entered, the status of your application changes from "Incomplete" to "Complete".

This process can take a long time.  Our mail center brings the admissions office dozens of mail bins every day.  They contain those transcripts, letters of recommendations, and essays, but they also contain college transcripts for our transfer students, letters to the staff, and of course, junk mail.  All of it needs to open, sorted, date stamped and organized.  USD has an electronic filing process, meaning our documents are scanned and electronically filed.  Our scanners work constantly during the day (and nights, during the busiest times) and the staff takes those electronic images and matches them up to your "file".  If your school sends us a transcript on a Monday morning, for example, and it goes through the US Postal Service, it will take quite a journey to ultimately make it into your file.  Let's say it gets picked up from your high school on Monday afternoon and processed at the local mail center the next day.  It makes its way through the post office process and to our local center in San Diego.  If all goes well, it gets to our mail room by Wednesday or Thursday and is put in one of those huge mail bins with all the other mail.  On Friday, it finally is delivered to our office.  Depending on how much mail we receive that day, it will get opened, date stamped and alphabetized that day.  It probably will be a day or more until it is scanned into our imaging system, and then at least several more days - or even up to two weeks - before it is matched up to your particular record. 

Each day, several hundred applications become complete.  At the same time, each day, several hundred more applications are downloaded. This on-going process is repeated over and over again during December, January, and February until finally, all the documents have been matched up with all the applications.  It is slow and tedious work, but our staff does an amazing job of turning what often seems like chaos into an organized, efficient system of processing over 13,000 freshman applications.  A similar process is happening at every college to which you applied.  Even if you applied to several colleges at the same time and your high school sent all the transcripts at exactly the same time and the College Board or ACT sent your scores to each one at exactly the same time, the odds are that your application would become complete at different times at each school.  You will likely hear from some before others and it might actually turn out that one or more of your schools will say they never got all the material.  It does happen - fortunately not very often.

So let me come back to the point of why some of you heard before the holiday and some are still waiting.  From the time we began processing early action files in late October, we were able to go through the above process and make about 2000 of our 4000-plus applications complete in time to review them and make a decision (next time I will talk more about what that process is like - how we review each application and make a decision).  We did have several hundred applications that we decided to either not accept or defer to the regular pool, but I believe that we shouldn't send those decisions out before the holiday so we held on to those.  For the rest of you, your application is somewhere along that process and over the holidays, hundreds and hundreds of your applications have become complete and have been reviewed. 

We will be mailing more decisions - admit, deny and hold decisions - later this week and will have one more final early action mailing before the 15th of January.  For those applications that are still incomplete, you will be notified this week as to what we are still missing.  In any case, if you haven't heard yet it doesn't have anything to do with the strength of your application or how likely it is you are going to get in. It just means we are working on it, as fast as we can.

Waiting is hard, especially for something as important as your college decision.  If you are still waiting, I hope you can relax a little and this has helped you understand what it happening to your application.  If you still have questions, please let my staff and I know.

In the meantime, visit your MySanDiego portal and check your status.  Get back to your school work because senior grades still matter.  And keep checking the mail (and your email).

Next time - how we make decisions.


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