03/27/2014 06:17 am ET Updated May 27, 2014

What to Do When You Hear From Colleges

Many seniors will be hearing back from their colleges in the next couple of weeks. Once the decisions come, it's important to have a plan for receiving the news and responding to it. Here's what to do before -- and after -- you hear from your colleges:

Open college mail and texts at home, alone. You have it all pictured in your head. The bell rings, you calmly open the e-mail from the college of your dreams, and -- you're admitted! You receive the accolades of your teacher and your classmates, including those who applied to the same highly competitive college. They just found out they didn't get in, but they're still happy for you.

But remember -- that's what happens in your head, not in your school. Most of the time, it isn't you; it's often one of the quietest or hippest students in class who simply can't handle good or bad news well -- even if it's about you. The same is true at home; your parents love you, but do you really want your dad making a video of you reading your college decisions? (Oh yes, it has happened.)

It's understandable you want to share a big moment with others. The best way to make sure that happens in a way that's best for everyone is for you to know what the news is for at least ten minutes before someone else finds out -- and that's at home.

Admitted: If the news is good, it's time to do some close looking. You have until May 1 to respond to any offer, but there may be information on an admitted student program in April, a scholarship competition, or how to maximize your housing options. Read all of the information right away, then again an hour later, with your parents -- you don't want to miss an opportunity to learn all you can about the school you may be saying "yes" to.

Waitlisted: If the news is maybe, you have the opportunity to continue the conversation with a school that has shown interest in you. Waitlisted letters need to be read three times, since they usually mention if you need to contact them to stay on the waitlist. Most do require this, so if you want to keep your options open, respond right away.

Waitlist letters also mention if you can send additional materials for the college to review -- things like additional essays, current grades, or another teacher letter. If the college has limits on what you can send, follow them -- you don't want to be the waitlisted student who's memorable in a bad way. If there are no limits, send enough to tell them more about you, but not so much that you seem desperate. Your counselor can help with this.

Denied: The main reason most colleges deny most students is because the college runs out of room. It isn't something the student did, or didn't do -- and it has nothing to do with if the college "liked" you. Taking more students than a college has room for makes that college less like college, and more like an assembly line -- and you deserve more than that.

You may have the right to appeal your admission decision, and you always have the right to call the college and find out why you weren't admitted. Take some time to consider both options before acting on them, and talk to a counselor or parent before you call. Either way, know you're in good company; Einstein was turned down by his first-choice college, and that decision made a world of difference to all of us.