A college application is a series of promises. At the most basic level, it’s a promise that the information you’ve shared is accurate and complete. But you’re also promising to keep being the person you’ve presented. Here are four promises you’re making within your application, along with (where appropriate) some recommendations about actions to take if it becomes clear you’re going to break the promise.
The viability of your contact information
Yes, if you change your email address or phone number after you apply to college, it’s worth updating them so they can get in touch with you. But it’s just as important to keep the implied promise that you will receive—and respond to when asked to do so—communication colleges send you. This is the time to check your email once a day. Check your spam filter a few times a week. Once you apply, most colleges will only contact you with requests for additional information or to share updates on your status. Make sure you keep your promise to tend to the channels you’ve asked them to use to contact you.
Your class schedule
You made a promise to your college that you’ll finish the classes you told them you were taking and that you planned to take. If your current or future schedule has changed in any way from that which was listed on your application, you need to update the college with a new promise. Course changes are not inherently bad, but it’s worth a conversation with your high school counselor before you make that choice (and if you make the choice and need advice around communicating it to the college).
Most colleges admit students provisionally, which is a nice way of saying, “You’re in as along as nothing happens that would make us change our minds.” A precipitous drop in grades is one of the most common reasons a college will rescind an admissions decision. That’s why “Keep your grades up” is common–and also imperative–advice. What qualifies as a “precipitous drop”? There’s no universal definition, and colleges evaluate those scenarios on a case by case basis. But while I’ve never seen a student who went from A’s to B’s in two classes lose their admission, when C’s or D’s start showing up, especially for students who presented a very different academic record on the application, it’s cause for concern. Don’t let the senior party start too early.
Your disciplinary record
Remember those questions on the application that asked if you’d ever been suspended or otherwise disciplined? If those answers have changed since you applied, visit your high school counselor right away and discuss how you should update the colleges. Some applicants run the other direction of that advice and hope that by keeping quiet, the story will just go away and a college will never know. That’s a risky strategy that I don’t recommend. A college is almost certainly going to find out, and you’re better off getting in front of that story than you will be reacting to it.
I understand it might feel counterintuitive to voluntarily share news with a college that might hurt your application chances. But that news is going to come to light at some point. And the worst possible outcome is to suffer the consequences when it’s too late to accept an offer of admission from another college. And in fact, preemptively sharing the news is a good indication that you’re a mature student who can be counted on to honor your promises.