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What You Need to Know About Electronic College Applications

by Lisa Bleich on October 26, 2011

Girl at computerWhen I applied to college in the mid-eighties, I filled out my application on a typewriter, put in in an envelope and mailed it to my prospective colleges. My guidance counselor gathered my letters of recommendations, 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 schools seniors, those same pieces still need to get to the colleges, but with 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.

Here are some resources to help make the process go more smoothly.


Common Application 

With 456 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, UMASS Amherst, UNC Chapel Hill, and University of Delaware.

Universal College Application 

The Universal College Application has 59 schools that participate, so it has not gained as much traction as The Common Application. The theory behind it is the same though, one application going to several schools.

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 Wisconsin, also allow students to input their transcript, 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 is going through the biggest transition electronically. Many high schools are using eDocs through Naviance 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 can send the transcripts by mail.

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


Students must request that test scores be sent to all of their colleges by the appropriate deadline. Your application will not be read until the colleges receive the scores. Here's where to request your scores:

Request SAT scores

Request ACT scores


Consistency 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 immediate!
Even 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.

Lisa Bleich is the president of College Bound Mentor.


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Discussion loading


From Milton on October 26, 2011 :: 10:58 am

I have a question about getting recent ACT scores to a college in time for Early Decision. Can you help?



From Lisa Bleich on October 26, 2011 :: 12:45 pm


Most colleges will accept the scores a few days or even a week or two late as long as the rest of the applications pieces on your end are in on time.  You can request a rush and pay extra, which I recommend for your ED school.  Just to be sure, I would call the ED school and ask them if it would be okay.




From Carlissa on November 12, 2011 :: 11:36 pm

This was very helpful! I’m currently completing an application for Syracuse university using the Common Application. I had not thoroughly read through the requirements and had missed the fact that they require a recommendation from my guidance counselor. I’m applying early decision so if /i turn the application in on time, could I still send the recommendation from guidance counselor at a later date, possibly within the week of the deadline?



From Lisa Bleich on November 14, 2011 :: 3:51 pm

Hi Carlissa,

Yes, you should still be okay to get in the letter of recommendation to Syracuse, but make sure you call them and let them know that it is on its way.  Also make sure you get it out ASAP.  Many schools will give a couple-few weeks leeway for the letters, transcripts, test scores, etc. to arrive.  You should also let your guidance counselor and teachers know now of any back up schools on your list to get those ready as well to make the deadline for those school in case it doesn’t work out at Syracuse.

Good luck.


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