Prep Talk Blog > January 2011

                                                        When Is a College Application Deadline Not a Deadline?      
One of my mentors once told me that hearing, “no” in answer to any questions was, to her, like the starting bell in a race.  “No,” she said, “is just the start of negotiations.”

That can be helpful with words in the college admissions process like “deadline” or “denied.”

For now, let’s focus on the term “deadline,” one of the more ominous words in our language. The term raises imagery of a ticking clock overlaid by the Grim Reaper (or is that just me?). Colleges and universities typically send you a lot of deadline reminders, and they often have multiple deadlines. For instance, freshmen applying to Mason have an early action deadline, a deadline to be considered for scholarships, and a final freshman application deadline.

But do we really mean it?

For those of you who, like me, make an annual resolution on January 1st to stop procrastinating, and by January 2nd have begun putting that off, it may be useful to know that not all deadlines are as serious as they sound.

Now, before my colleagues begin tweeting (follow me @deanflagel) about all the awful misleading information I am providing, a couple of things need to be clear.  Many institutions take their deadlines VERY seriously.  This ranges from those that have SO many applicants they can’t possibly make ANY exceptions, to those that perceive changes in deadlines as a matter of fairness and can’t bring themselves to make ANY exceptions, no matter the reason.  So bear in mind: It’s very likely that an institution will NOT take a late application, and they are entirely within their rights in that decision.

Of course, as with everything in the college admissions process, there are other institutions that handle these matters differently.

Why You Might Be Able to Submit a College Application Late

A few broad reasons why some institutions may go a little soft on deadlines:

You already started an application: What does it mean to apply by a deadline?  What if you submitted the application and paid the fees, but you have a recommendation or test score still on the way?  What if you submitted Part I of a two-part application?  What if you started the application and sent in all your documents, but didn’t hit the “submit” button?  All of these may be cases where the school keeps your application active and might, as a result, accept your completion of the application after the deadline.

It’s our fault: Mason’s application system was down twice during the application submission season, once very near to our December deadline for scholarship applicants.  It is not unusual in these cases for institutions to extend deadlines.  Another case is where your application is incomplete, despite you having done everything in a timely fashion because the institution has “misplaced” (one NEVER says lost) one of your required documents.  Most institutions will avoid punishing you for their own transgressions.

You have a REALLY good reason: This is not the-dog-ate-my-homework kind of stuff, but illness or family trauma can certainly be understandable to many admissions offices.  Many institutions will also extend deadlines in and around natural disasters, especially when schools are closed for extended periods in or around deadlines.

They need particular students: A great secret of admissions is that there are students colleges REALLY want.  You may be a valedictorian, a recruited athlete, an incredible performer, or even just from an area of the country that is a high target for a particular school.  The main thing to keep in mind is that if a school REALLY wants you, they can always choose to review your application if they want to.

They need more students/applicants: Another circumstance that colleges will rarely (if ever) admit, but it certainly happens, is that the school finds itself with fewer applicants (and potentially fewer students) than planned.  In those circumstances, the school will likely continue to accept applications.

They will happily accept your late application (and your late application fee): Another thing you should know is even if a school does accept your application late, that doesn’t mean you will have the same chances of getting in as those who applied on time.  Many schools have to keep their online applications active for a variety of technical and policy reason and may review late applications, but only on a space available basis.

Let’s be clear -- I am NOT advocating or encouraging you to make this process any longer than it already is, or to add more schools to your mix.  There’s enough stress already on you, your guidance counselor, your parents, and even on college admissions officers, that making this whole process longer isn’t in anyone’s interests.  At the same time, at this stage of your life, it seems possible that somewhere, somehow, some of you may actually change your minds, at least on rare occasions (or every 32.7 seconds, according to scientific research that I am entirely making up).  You may, perhaps, find a school you REALLY wish you had considered after the deadlines have passed, and in that case, you should know that it’s possible, just possible, you may still be able to apply.

Mason -- shameless plug -- of course, has more applications than ever before and continues to be one of the most competitive schools in the nation.  That being said, if you already started your application and happen to be valedictorian of your class, a highly recruited athlete, a star dancer, and from Alaska; let’s just say that you may find that the application is still available online.

Be seeing you.

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You have a mental checklist of likes and dislikes in your mind as you visit each prospective college, and whether you realize it or not, you’re mentally checking off the boxes as you tour the campuses and get a feel for what life would be like there. Campus security measures should also be on your mental checklist, as you want to spend the next four years on a campus that makes you feel comfortable and secure. All of us here at Home Security Cameras have talked with college students and seen our own kids through college, and we offer these tips for creating your own campus security checklist!

Heavy on the Lighting

You’re likely visiting the campus in the daytime, so you may not notice the amount of lighting the campus has in its parking lots and pathways. Visit the college at night to get a feel for how safe you’ll be walking from your night biology class back to your dorm. If a day visit is your only option, take special care to pick out how much lighting is in parking lots, pathways, and open spaces throughout the campus.

Central Pathways

You’re going to be doing a lot of walking on campus, and although it’s always best to walk in the daytime, we know some of that walking will be at night. Do your best to commit to walking at night only with a friend or your fellow classmates. Check out what kind of central pathways the campus has -- are there just a few main pathways, or do the pathways twist around the buildings, leaving you walking in poorly illuminated and out-of-main-sight areas? It’s ideal to find yourself at a campus with mostly main pathways that connect each building, and with each pathway being out in the open and well-lit.

It’s Your Call

You probably heard the campus tour guide rattle off something about emergency call boxes on campus. You doubt you’ll ever have to use one, so you tune out. Attacks on college campuses have only risen, and although it’s a scary thought, it could happen to you. The campus should have emergency call boxes throughout parking lots, in the front of each building, and along pathways. You never know when you’ll need to utilize that emergency call box, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing it’s there for your safety.

Campus Crime Statistics

Colleges do report their campus crimes, but it probably won’t be something your tour guide brings up as you stroll throughout the rolling lawns and Greco-Roman architecture. Take a quick side trip to the campus safety office, and ask what last year’s campus crime stats were. Be sure to also take note of how large the campus safety team is!

Never Walk Alone

One of the most underused campus services is the security escort service. Ask the campus security office if it or any student organizations provide security escort services to walk you from your night class back to your dorm, or to the gym at night or your car in the back parking lot. Most campuses do offer these services, yet few students ever use them. Not only will you feel safe and confident walking around campus at night, but you’ll likely meet some valuable new friends in the college security office!

Go with Your Gut

You might absolutely love the school’s pre-law program, but if you don’t feel safe on campus, your entire college experience will suffer. You want to choose a college where you’ll feel secure walking around during the daytime, and confident walking with friends at night. College is much more than a GPA, and feeling secure on campus will make your college days some of the most memorable times you’ll have! has been in the security cameras business for over 25 years now, and is dedicated to helping prospective college students feel safe and secure on campus. The company’s surveillance cameras and safety expertsexpertise work to provide home and business owners with peace of mind knowing they’re doing all things possible to protect their security.

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I’ve mentioned it in a previous post, but I’ve become a fan (obsessed stalker perhaps) of the show “Pretty Little Liars” on ABC Family. In rare moments of self-reflection, I acknowledge that this is not because of any deep redeeming literary value, and I understand (with some clarity) that the show in no way enhances my cognitive skills. But it’s SO fun.

The lives of the show’s characters, performed by a great cast, careen from one lie to another. As each cover up builds on the previous, a revelation of one lie to parents or close friends inevitably establishes a series of supporting lies, snaring other family and friends in a web of deceit creating groups united primarily by their need to perpetuate these falsehoods. While this makes for some entertaining viewing, I’m amazed at how often it also arises as a theme in the college admissions process.

Lies on College Applications

Most often, the perception of dishonesty on college applications involves a significant drop in a grade or grades. In response, students:

A. Provide rational responses that acknowledge personal responsibility for the lowered grade, also detailing changes made to improved grades and ways such outcomes will be avoided in the future.
B. Offer a series of excuses, potentially valid, but entirely unverifiable. Typically such applicants vow that once life becomes entirely fair again, good grades will inevitably result.
C. Concoct a description of circumstances justifying the situation with the skill of a seasoned fiction writer. If channeled in appropriate directions, these students could easily turn these narrative skills into a future writing career (if not of novels, at least of future ABC Family scripts).

Unfortunately for college admissions officers, it is often hard to distinguish between these responses. If circumstances (whether they be related to your health, family tragedy, or the routine consumption of your homework by the household pet) have had a negative influence on your grades, you need to carefully consider how your explanation is going to sound to college admissions officers. Keep your explanation simple, concise, and easy to follow. Most importantly, consider two pieces of information that are often lacking from these submissions: What you have learned from the situation and how you have managed to overcome it.

Look again at option A above. College admissions officers want to see that you understand your role in your grades and you take responsibility for them. Despite one teacher’s irrational campaign to destroy your life (an explanation I get at least several times each year), how you handle the situation is up to you. Admissions officers realize, as you should too, that you are LIKELY to encounter new and awful situations throughout college (potentially including a professor who has an irrational campaign to destroy your life). Regardless of the cause of your past challenges, explaining how you have learned to face such situations in the future is crucial.

This leads to the second piece of information most applicants miss, which would also be the best response: Showing improvement in your performance. As mentioned in my last post, this can happen even later in your senior year, but being able to write that you have found a way to be successful despite challenges is a much better piece of information than any reason for poor performance in the past. Oh, and please don’t ignore the issue. Most college admissions officers who read your application will wonder why you didn’t address the issue of a significant drop in grades on your transcript.

Apart from various explanations for bad grades, I am also often asked about whether or not applicants need to share other types of negative information. In other words, is a lie acceptable on the college application if it is a lie of omission? This ranges from wanting to cover up transgressions in school, weak grades from courses taken outside of school, criminal records, or any number of other issues that college admissions committees are likely to view negatively. Applicants and parents write to me desperate for permission to leave such information out of the application.


Nearly every application asks that you sign (or electronically acknowledge) that the information you are submitting is true, accurate, and COMPLETE. If you fail to do so, colleges can revoke your admission EVEN AFTER YOU HAVE ENROLLED!! Also, even if not caught, it makes you a big stinky Lying McLyerson.

Also worth knowing, you probably will get caught. Colleges find out this information in all kinds of ways, ranging from financial aid records to oversharing on social media. When it becomes clear that a student has lied on the application, schools will almost always take action. The risk just isn’t worth the potential incentive of avoiding additional scrutiny from the admissions committee. Getting admission, only to have it revoked, is far worse than being denied in the first place.

Truly shameless plug alert: Of course, how truthful, accurate and complete you are in your answers won’t matter if you miss your application deadline. Yes, thank you for asking, Mason’s application deadline is coming up this Saturday, January 15, 2011 -- so apply now, yes now. You can read the rest later. I’ll wait…

As I was saying: Whenever we catch an applicant in one of these omissions, I imagine that scene from the Princess Bride where Carol Kane is shouting, “Liar” at Billy Crystal. Now THAT would be a scene I’d love to see on “PLL,” right after the episode where the snarky admissions dean has a small but crucial guest-starring role. Hey, it could happen.

Be seeing you.

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Once again, it’s time to slim down.  After the usual holiday excess of cookies, pies, egg nog, and the occasional chocolate Santa stolen from my eight-year-old son, I either need to have a tailor let out all of my clothes, or drop a few pounds.  I will run more, eat less, and generally be even crankier than usual.


Unfortunately, all of that effort will likely be wasted.  Based on past experience, I will probably shed a few pounds, then go right back to my unhealthy (but entirely enjoyable) lifestyle.  It’s true, this COULD be the year I turn the corner and achieve a composite body fat index worthy of an appearance on Vampire Diaries...but I wouldn’t bet on that.

My pessimism is for good reason: a person’s past behavior is generally, for the most part, to some extent,  a reasonably good indication of future actions.  As a matter fact, that’s pretty much the basis for most admissions decisions.  However, there is one glaring difference: Admissions officers assume that your past academic record is the best indicator of your future performance, but we also place a LOT more weight on more recent achievements.

In other words, even if you have already applied to your college(s) of choice, there is still time to have an impact on admission decisions…but not much.  Your senior year grades, at some schools even as late as third quarter, can have an impact on admissions decisions.  Admissions officers, of course, prefer to see all great grades in incredible courses.  However, if grades are inconsistent, they will look for trends up or down.  Yes, up is better.

Some trends, of course, stay entirely consistent.  For instance (shameless plug alert!) Mason has AGAIN been named by Kiplinger Personal Finance Magazine as one of the Best Values in Higher Education

Don’t worry, I’ll supply more detail about mitigating the impact of significant drops in grades, and how to use trends in grades if you are waitlisted or denied, in future posts.  In the meantime, now that you’re all rested and relaxed from vacation – GET BACK TO WORK!  While you’re in class, I’ll be over here, sitting on my treadmill, eating chocolate Santas. 

Be seeing you.

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Do you think it's fair if college admissions professionals "google" you or look at your Facebook profile during the admissions process?
Yes. If it's out there, it's fair game.
No. If it's not part of my official application package, it shouldn't be considered.
I don't know.
The poll is closed.


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Don Munce