January Rant for seniors from the College Guy - The "Follow Up Letter Package" and some important reminders

Hey Seniors - greetings from the College Guy!

Hope everyone had a safe and restful Holiday break. Time to finally break out your true winter gear here in Maine as temperatures drop! And how ‘bout those Patriots?l!

For those of you have sent all your applications in to your colleges and are now playing the waiting game, congratulations and nice job! For those of you who have not gotten all your applications out yet - not to worry (unless you were planning on applying to a college with a January 1 or 15 deadline - then you’ve got troubles). For many schools you've still got time to apply, but what the heck is holding you up? If you need some help getting organized and getting things done, give me a holler by phone or email. I'm happy to read and comment on essays, review your list of schools and answer questions you may have regarding the application process.

This email explains and elaborates on my idea of sending a "follow up letter package" with supporting items to each of the colleges you've already applied to. This is neither a required nor a commonplace thing to do, but I think it's a smart and potentially helpful thing to do (in terms of getting accepted, and perhaps even being considered for merit money from the colleges who offer it).

Before jumping in to the follow letter, here are three quick and important reminders:

  1. Confirm that all your sent applications have been received in their entirety at each of your schools, and set up your student “portals” for each one
  2. PARENTS: Make sure you’ve completed and filed all required financial aid forms, and don’t forget to add all additional schools your student has decided to apply to recently to the FAFSA (and, if required, the CSS PROFILE)
  3. Mid-Term Grade Reports

1. If you’ve applied and have not received confirmation that your application materials have been received from each college within two weeks after applying, CALL THE ADMISSIONS OFFICE AND ASK THEM. Be nice and polite, but DO THIS! Things can get misplaced or misfiled - happens all the time. And most schools won't begin reviewing your application until it's complete.

If you call you should ask specifically whether the following things have been received:

  • your high school materials (transcript, counselor's letter, etc.).
  • your application and supplemental materials.
  • SAT (and/or ACT) scores. Some schools will accept them if they’re on your official transcript; others require that they be sent by the testing agency - you can inquire about this.
  • letters of recommendation from each of the persons you asked to send them.

Only make this call after waiting two weeks from when you applied, by which time you will hopefully have gotten email or postal or on-line confirmation. If you do get notified that something is missing don't panic, but deal with it immediately with a phone call, and if necessary bring it to your guidance counselor and get him/her involved. Chances are the missing items are hung up in the college's intake system and will turn up, but the safest thing is to offer to fax them duplicate copies. Your guidance office will do this for you.

Each school should send you instructions to set up an online account (or “portal”) with a special ID user name and password. DO THIS! And make sure you regularly check in on each of your portals for status of your application and other possible “to do” lists.

If anyone runs in to a gnarly problem with any of the above give me a holler and I'll help you solve it.


2. All families who plan to apply for financial aid should have completed the 2019/20 FAFSA at this time. In addition to this form some schools require an additional form, either the CSS PROFILE or their own institutional form. To find out whether a school requires such an additional form (they ALL require the FAFSA), go to their web site and look under 'admissions' and find a link to 'financial aid', and read the instructions about how to apply.

Each of these forms ask for a family’s 2017 tax numbers, which you completed last winter or spring. Easiest way to report them on FAFSA is to use the IRS data retrieval tool.

Also note that schools which require the CSS PROFILE usually are going to require you to send or upload parent and student tax forms and W-2 forms - follow instructions to complete the “IDOC” if asked for.

Parents, if you aren't crystal clear on what I'm talking about here or if you feel like you need help with this process, give me a call at the phone number below for instructions and support.

This stuff isn’t hard. Annoying, yes, but not difficult!


3. All colleges expect and in fact require mid-term grade reports. Your high school guidance office will send them providing you've let them know where you've applied (either through Naviance if your school uses that, or on a special transcript request form). Check with your guidance office about this particular task. Those of you who attend schools which operate on a trimester basis won’t have mid-year grade reports, but your school will know what to do.


Okay, the rest of this email is devoted to what I call the "follow letter package", which I suggest you put together and send at the end of this month to all the schools you've applied to and are waiting to hear from. I've included an example at the end of this email. Look it over, rework it in your own words, and if it makes sense, do it!

Hey, I know you're busy, but this could be important, so give it your consideration. Read on...


Now I know there are some of you who are snickering cause you've already gotten acceptance letters via early decision or early action from your first choice school, so you can take a hike and not read any further (but remember to write 'em a "thank you" and follow directions about submitting a deposit to reserve your space and any $$$ awards they've offered you.)

For the rest of you, recall that I've mentioned sending a "follow up" letter to your schools at the end of the semester. This is a "hi,-how-you-doing-thought-I'd-check-in-with-you-and-remind-you-of-what-a-wonderful-person-I-am-and-what-an-injustice-it-would-be-if-you-don’t-accept- me!!” letter.

The timing is to send this letter when you receive your mid-term grades. For most of you that’s going to be over the next week or two, certainly by the end of the month.

The idea, as you'll see, is to have an additional contact with the admissions folks, who are right now engaged in the process of reviewing applications. Mid-term grades are the excuse for your letter, but the real reason is to give them yet another slice of your personality - to impress them with:

a) how wonderful you are, and

b) how motivated you are to be accepted (remember the “demonstrated interest” factor"?)

I suspect some of you are saying you don't wanna do this. Certainly it’s your call, but here are a couple things to consider:

It's not that hard, it doesn't cost you anything (other than postage), and believe me I've heard from many fine schools that a gesture such as this can make a difference by demonstrating your interest in attending that college.

So what exactly do you put in a follow letter/package of additional information?

I suggest you include at least two of the following items:

  • a newsy update, where you share your mid-term grades (comment on them if necessary) and your new schedule, and whatever else of note may be going on in your life.
  • one or two additional letter(s) of recommendation the college hasn't seen. Don't send the letter(s) yourself of course, but have them sent by either the writer of the letter, or ask your guidance counselor to send it. Be creative here - ask a coach or an employer or even a peer (who can write a responsible but edgy/entertaining letter about you). The more interesting the letter, the better!
  • an additional essay. Remember those extra essays I suggested you do last spring, summer and fall? Plug one in here. Or use the odd supplement you wrote for Cornell or U. Chicago or some other school! If it's good, now's the time to recycle it to the schools who haven't seen it already.
  • a 'graded writing sample' from a class. This is a paper you've done recently which reflects hard work and a sound effort on your part. Important thing here is for it to represent something you're proud of.
  • a 'show and tell' piece - remember these? Some of you sent art work or poetry, an audio tape or film or photo essay or CD or a link to your web page at the time you sent your applications. Others wanted to do it but didn't get around to making it happen. Here's your second chance. Remember, 'eye candy' (or 'ear candy') can work by livening up your application - just make sure it's tasteful and contributes to an understanding of who you are.

You don't need to send all of the above items - just your grades and one or two additional things will be fine. On the other hand, if you've got something good they haven't seen, use it! Just make sure you write why you want the school to have that particular item.

Below is an example of such a letter. Rewrite it in your own words - the following is only to give you an idea of what you might say. Make sure to keep the idea I've expressed in the next to last paragraph - that you hope they will consider your letter and other material IF APPROPRIATE...

Okay, nuff said. Give me a call or email if you have questions. For those of you who haven’t checked in with me in a while, don't be a stranger! And if you've already received acceptances from schools I'd appreciate hearing about them from you.

From your marketing Mahatma, your higher ed Hot Shot, your academic aficionado,

Gary the College Guy


Click here for an example of the FOLLOW UP LETTER.


Gary L. Canter College Placement Services 210 St. John Street Portland, Maine 04102 (207) 772-9711 www.collegeplacementservices.org College Placement Services provides high school students and their families assistance with all aspects of the college search, selection, application and financial aid process.