The college admission decision: What happens next


Although it’s rewarding, applying to college can also be a time-consuming and intimidating process. After all the hard work, what happens when your student receives an admission decision.

The admission letter

After submitting an application, the wait begins. Depending on when your student applies and the college’s admission deadlines, waiting for a decision could take as little as a few weeks or as long as a few months. These days, colleges will reach out with an “acceptance” letter using multiple touchpoints. Your student will likely receive an email, an admission packet that includes a printed letter in the mail and access to a decision online through a student portal. All touchpoints will include the good news (cue the screams and instagram pics) and next steps to guide incoming students through the enrollment process. 

If you’re not sure what your student’s admission letter means, or if any of the language is confusing, never hesitate to ask. Most universities will include website links and contact information to counselors or admission specialists in emails to your student, as well as email addresses and phone numbers so you can connect with the university to find out more. 

A search of the school’s admission website is also a good idea. There are often chat features available to help get simple questions answered quickly.

The “decision”

Sometimes a student may be admitted to their selected college within the university, but not to their preferred degree program. A student may have the academic record to enter the university, but may need additional testing in specific areas in order to gain full access to university resources. Every university has different terms and conditions for admission, so it’s important to ask for clarification when you need it.

If your student is not admitted to a college they applied to (including their dream school), it may be disappointing to you and your student. The best thing to do is take some time to process the situation, and then move forward by embracing the schools they were admitted to. Another option may be to start at a community college and transfer to their dream school in a couple of years. 

Different universities have different programs, partnerships and requirements, but they will generally provide you and your student with alternative options, such as vocational schools or two-year community college plans. It is also worth reaching out to the admission department and asking for feedback about their admission policies and recommended alternative pathways to college.

Taking the first steps toward enrollment

Receiving an admission notification is an exciting time. Your student’s notification will include a list of next steps. These steps will likely include paying an enrollment deposit and registering for orientation. Most college orientations take place the summer before a student’s first year, and sometimes there’s more than one orientation program available depending on the university and your student’s degree program. 

For example, there may be a special orientation for international students, as they are being welcomed to the university and to the United States. Some orientations are overnight experiences that include campus tours, information sessions and advising meetings.

The university will usually present a range of dates throughout the summer for your student to choose from, usually via an email that will link you to the registration website. After your student chooses a date and registers, they will receive information on further steps, like what to bring and what to expect from their orientation experience.

Confused? Just ask

Again, if you don’t receive information or if you don’t understand your next steps, ask. Admission representatives are trained to explain all the details, and they understand that this is likely all very new to you. There are plenty of people available to help your student get enrolled and ready to begin classes in the fall. 


Contributor César Flores, director of international recruitment operations at Arizona State University