The acceptance has arrived, the sweatshirts have been purchased and all signs point to college in the fall — but what are you supposed to do if your acceptance is rescinded?

For prospective students at the University of California, Irvine, that nightmare came true. In July, the college took back nearly 500 acceptances, citing over-enrollment. Students and parents were outraged, and the college re-extended many of the original offers.

You may have also heard about the would-be Harvard students whose acceptances were rescinded after it was discovered they had posted deeply offensive memes in a Facebook group chat, violating the university’s code of conduct.

The truth is, a rescinded admission — especially on this scale — is relatively rare. But it does happen, and colleges are clear about their policies surrounding what they call a pending acceptance. In fact, when you get an acceptance notification, that’s exactly what you’ve received: An acceptance to the school pending several factors, such as whether your final grades are up to par.

Image: The University of California, Irvine, Feb. 26, 2013. Two months before the start of the fall 2017 semester, 499 students who had been accepted to the University received letters informing them that their acceptances had been rescinded.
The campus on the University of California, Irvine. David McNew / Redux Pictures

Know the rules

“A lot of times with the kids and parents when they receive the initial acceptance letter, they don’t understand that it’s pending,” said Dawn Mann, the counselor at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia. “Actually in the computer, that status is AP — that means you are accepted pending a couple of things.”

Mann tells her students about the importance of maintaining the status quo. “It’s not about improving. But the 12th year does matter, and you’re not off the hook when you receive that initial admissions letter of acceptance.”

Though Mann has never had a student’s acceptance rescinded, she knows that Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, in particular, have strict and rigorous standards for their incoming students. So if a high schooler hits the news for a criminal act, the colleges will check that teen’s name in their system to see if he or she is one of theirs.

So what can you do to prevent — and problem-solve — a potential issue before matriculating?

Know the rules, said Rachel White, a master-level counselor at educational consulting firm IvyWise.

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“I’m sure it’s available on the website, but it’s probably easier to ask someone at the school because sometimes it’s hard to get through all that fine print,” said White.

“Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call the admissions office and ask: once all the excitement has worn off and all you’ve been accepted and you’ve enrolled, what happens next? What do students need to be aware of — timelines if there’s a big deadline coming up when you need to send paperwork or even just register for classes. That stuff should be on the forefront of parents’ and students’ minds.”

Because applying to college is such a lengthy process, students may want to sit back and coast, said White. But don’t. “It almost feels like you’ve crossed the finish line, but in fact there’s still a little farther to go, and arguably the most important stuff is to come.”

‘You never know how things are going to come up’

Should disaster strike — you miss a deadline, or there’s a dip in your grades or a disciplinary infraction — pick up the phone, the experts advise. Remember that the admissions office is a living, breathing group of dedicated professionals who want you to attend their school — and don’t want to punish you if they don’t have to.

And be honest.

“I tell my students and parents: You need to disclose information because you never know how things are going to come up, and how admissions officers will find out about certain situations,” said Mann. “But don’t write two paragraphs about the mistake. Write one paragraph about it, and your next two should contain the information on what you’ve learned from that mistake, and how you’ve used that past behavior to improve how you make decisions now, and how much you’ve grown.”