Written by Lisa Bleich

When I applied to college in the mid-eighties, I filled out my application on a typewriter, put it in an envelope, and mailed it to my prospective colleges.  My guidance counselor gathered my letters of recommendation, transcripts, and SAT scores, put them into a manila envelope, and mailed them to the schools.  Then I waited and assumed that the post office would deliver my applications in good faith.

For current high school seniors, those same pieces still need to get to the colleges, but with the transition to electronic applications, score choice, digital portfolios, and eDocs the process has become in some ways easier, but in many other ways more confusing.

I often get asked if you can submit your application before the letters of recommendation are sent, and the answer is YES!  Students submit all the pieces under their control by the deadline and the other aspects, e.g. letters of recommendation, official test scores (if needed), transcripts, etc. get added to your application once they arrive.

Here are some resources to help make the process go smoother.


Common Application  

With over 1,000 members, the Common Application is the dominant electronic site for submitting applications to colleges.  The benefit is that students can fill out one application and submit it to all participating schools. Several state schools also participate including the University of Michigan, University of Maryland, Indiana, UNC Chapel Hill, and University of Delaware.

State and School Specific Electronic Applications

Many large state schools along with Georgetown and MIT have their own applications that can be found on their website. Several universities such as Rutgers and the University of California schools, also allow students to input their transcripts, eliminating the need to send a transcript from their high school.  Don’t forget to do this step because your application is incomplete without it.  On the Rutgers site it is called SRAR or Self Reported Academic Record and it is a separate piece of the application. 


This piece of the application has gone through the biggest transition electronically.  Most high schools are using some form of eDocs through Naviance, SCOIR, or Parchment to send the transcripts electronically to the schools, but many high school guidance departments still require that students fill out a paper form with all the information so they have a paper record.

It is important to understand the process at your high school and allow at least three to four weeks before the deadline to make the request.


Due to the pandemic, more and more schools have become test-optional and many are keeping testing optional going forward.  For example, the University of California schools became test-blind for in-state students and are test-optional for out-of-state students.  While Georgia Teach requires testing to be considered for admissions based on the Georgia state requirements, they actually blocked out test scores in the review process.

There is also a growing movement of colleges that allow students to self-report their test scores. However, like most things in college admissions, it varies by school exactly how to do that.  For many schools, self-reporting on the application will suffice.  For others, like the University of Southern California, you will need to upload a copy of your score report to your portal after you submit your application.  Georgetown still requires that students send an official copy of ALL test scores they have ever taken in addition to inputting them on the application.

Here is a list of colleges that allow for self-reporting of tests scores. Students must request that test scores be sent to all of their colleges that require official testing by the appropriate deadline.

Request SAT scores

Request ACT scores


Consistency is the name of the game. When you sign up for the ACTs or SATs using your full legal name and e-mail, use that same name and e-mail for all subsequent application materials.

“The biggest problem is that various pieces can get lost and the easiest way to avoid mistakes is to have the same name and e-mail on everything. So if your legal name is Jonathan Brett Silver, but your nickname is JB, make sure to use Jonathan Brett on anything related to college.” Said J. Scott Myers from Susquehanna University. 

Key identity markers are

1)    Legal name (does not include nicknames)

2)    Email

Electronic does not mean immediateEven though you are used to text messages and e-mails being delivered immediately, it doesn’t work like that when submitting applications.  The applications go to a processing room and from there the application gets “input” into the college’s own proprietary system either by electronically populating the fields, scanning documents, or printing them for colleges that do not yet read electronically.

1)    Every school uses a different system to input data.

2)    “Some colleges receive testing information by mail and then enter scores into the student’s file.  Others receive test scores electronically and automatically integrate them into their system.” Nancy Rehling, a Director from ACT.

Follow-up is key!   Once you submit your application, most schools will send you a unique school ID and login information to check on your application status.  “Do this immediately and keep track of what pieces are missing” advises Deryn Pomeroy from Syracuse University

1)    Assume it will take from 2-4 weeks for your application to be processed. The closer to the deadline you submit, the longer it will take.

2)    If you do not get the green light within in four weeks of submission, call to follow up on the missing pieces.

Somehow the manila envelope that we all complained about does not seem so bad (just kidding!)  Electronic filing is here to stay and should become easier as high schools adopt procedures to streamline the application process.

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