Now that the hard work of filling out applications and writing essays is over, you may think all that's left to do is to wait anxiously for an admission decision about your college future. Even if you've turned everything in, however, there are still some things you can do to improve your chances of admission, and to keep your mind occupied while you wait.
Monitor the college acceptance process
Colleges won't make an admissions decision about you if they don't have everything they need, so you may want to follow up with schools to make sure they have all your paperwork. If you don't receive postal or electronic notification that your application is complete, check your colleges' Web sites or call to ask about the status of your application.
During mid-winter and early spring, colleges are often still awaiting mid-year high school grade reports, a teacher recommendation letter, an official SAT/ACT report, or other various forms. You may need to do some careful prodding of others to make sure your application moves forward.
Keep working hard in your classes
Continue to work hard and keep up your grades as they are the most important on-going factor in the admissions process, and could mean the difference between a college acceptance, a waiting list, or a flat-out rejection. The mid-year report from your high school will include your most recent transcript and grades. Make sure this report goes out from your high school, and consider updating the college yourself about your academic progress, especially if you have strong grades and good comments.
Know what you can do to impact the admission decision
A letter from you in February or early March may help, too. Discuss your academic progress, any particular activities you are enjoying (extracurricular and otherwise), changes in your schedule, or any classes or projects you would like to highlight.
Most importantly, emphasize your continuing interest in the colleges and be as specific as possible about why you are interested in a particular school. This might include highlighting which academic and extracurricular programs are most appealing to you, and why you believe the college is a good match for you. 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.
Sometimes it makes sense to send an additional letter of recommendation from a senior year teacher. You should, however, only do so if it would really give an added boost to your application. You may also want to consider sending a sample of strong senior year work, such as a graded paper from English, a science report, or an art portfolio or music recording.
Add positive elements to your application that you may increase your chances of receiving a college admission letter, but don't distract the admission committees from good work you did previously by adding unnecessary elements to your file.
Talk to alumni or college representatives if possible
Colleges that maintain alumni interviewing opportunities may contact you for an interview. Once they have your complete application, the college usually forwards the information to an alumni committee that automatically gets in touch with you by phone or e-mail. You might check the colleges' Web sites to see how the process works, and to request an interview if it is not clear how the process works.
Take advantage of these types of opportunities to learn more about the colleges and to demonstrate your interest in them. Yes, this might be a tipping factor to help you receive a college admission letter, but the effort could also help with your decision-making process in April if you are fielding multiple offers of admission.
Don't forget about money
An often-overlooked task during January and February is filing for financial aid. Talk with your parents or guardians. If you think you might need financial aid to help pay for college, then complete the financial aid process as soon as possible. File the FAFSA and PROFILE forms, as well as any additional financial aid forms required by individual colleges. The worst they can say is "no," but if you don't file for aid early in the winter, you might be excluded from potential assistance.
If there are extenuating circumstances that could affect your family's ability to pay for college, you should write a letter directly to each college's financial aid office, supported by any necessary documentation, to add to their decision process about your aid package.
Help your college acceptance chances
For seniors, January through March often seems like it's all about waiting for college admission letters, but these are some of the things you can do to remain engaged in the admissions process and help your chances. Avoid that senior slide as much as possible and stay committed. This strategy will have the greatest chance of helping you to open up choices in the spring.