When you hit "submit," much of the stress of the college admissions process melted away. But then you likely received a notification that your application is incomplete. Now your anxiety is in overdrive because you followed instructions, but it's still not working.

When you receive a note from a college saying that a piece of your application is missing -- DON'T BE ALARMED! Parents, students and college administrators all hope that a better system will evolve that prevents this panic.

Right now, at most colleges, when a student submits an application or even sends his or her test scores, an application folder is opened. As materials arrive, they are added to the folder. Transcripts are sent by the high school, letters of recommendation are often sent by individuals or done online and the application is completed by students. Because so many pieces of the application folder arrive separately, systems have been put in place to notify applicants with updates. The problem arises because the materials aren't really missing; they are probably sitting in the mailroom waiting to be distributed.

This is an all-too-common occurrence. Imagine the college mailroom -- one large public university reports that it generally receives more than 100,000 pieces of information from freshman applicants alone, plus mail from transfer students and other college mail.

The best way to avoid this fire drill is to send applications and all of the accompanying material as early as possible. To make matters worse, many colleges report receiving as many as half of their applications during the last week before the deadline.

You've sent in your paperwork. Now what?

Some tips for staying calm after the application deadline:

*Don't get angry. Most of these missing document situations are easily rectified. Shooting your mouth off to the admissions office won't help. Find out what's missing and follow up as necessary. In most cases, the colleges will ask that you check back in a few weeks when the mail has been processed.

*Use the same name on everything. Be consistent on each of your essays and any accompanying documents. Don't use nicknames except where you're asked on the application. Misfiled items are usually caused by duplicate or similar names.

*Make sure you make copies of everything. Be sure to keep your own electronic and hard copies of your applications, essays, transcripts and test scores.

*Make a list of your user names and passwords for each college. Many colleges have an online Application Status Check where you can log in and get an update on your specific application. Continue to check in with each school until you receive the green light that all materials have been received.

*Send self-addressed postcards to colleges confirming receipt of documents. This is standard practice at many high schools. If your high school doesn't do this, you can create your own.


Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit