The College Admissions World Has Shifted

The college admissions process is complex, stressful, and often overwhelming. Both students and their parents spend a lot of time and energy thinking, planning, testing, applying, waiting, and then making important decisions. Could it get any more difficult? In some ways, the answer is yes.

Changes to the admission process

In November 2019, the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NCAC), removed three provisions from their Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP). NACAC, an association of more than 15,000 admission professionals from most colleges and universities in the U.S., chose to make these changes in response to an investigation by the Department of Justice.

The organization chose to strike the following provisions from their Code of Ethics and Professional Practices:

  • “Colleges must not offer incentives exclusive to students applying or admitted under an early decision application plan.”
  • “Once students have committed themselves to a college, other colleges must respect that choice and cease recruiting them.”
  • “Colleges must not solicit transfer applications from a previous year’s applicant or prospect pool unless the students have themselves initiated a transfer inquiry or the college has verified prior to contacting the students that they are either enrolled at a college that allows transfer recruitment from other colleges or are not currently enrolled in a college.”

Essentially, these changes mean that 1) colleges can continue to recruit students after they have made their college choice by the May 1 National College Decision Day. In the past, once students made their commitment, other colleges ceased recruiting them. They may now continue to pursue them – perhaps with offers of increased aid. 2) It also means that students may be offered incentives to apply with binding Early Decision, and 3) that once a student begins college in the fall, they may continue to receive communication from other colleges to which they had applied encouraging them to consider transferring.

One theory behind these changes is that more competition could lower costs for students. With more competition between colleges, financial aid offers might increase.

A message for admission counselors from the NACAC admission practices committee stated: “We expect that our members will move forward with their current admission cycle in the same way they always have: representing their schools honestly and fairly, and treating applicants with respect and dignity.”

Some colleges say they will continue to follow the previous practices anyway. They believe that the restrictions were there for the reason to protect students.  However, it is impossible to say what will happen in the future as competition between colleges during recruitment increases. Although students admitted this spring may see little change, it is not clear what will happen in subsequent years.

What does this mean for your student?

These shifts in admission policy may affect students applying for admission, or newly admitted, in several ways:

  • The college recruiting process may become more year round. There may be no breather once the May 1 decision deadline has passed. Student will need to be prepared to receive communication and invitations from other schools – including offers of additional financial aid even after they have made their decision and throughout the summer. This can be a good thing for some students, but others may be confused and/or stressed by offers and counter offers.
  • Offers of extra financial aid throughout the spring and summer may tempt some students to place financial offers ahead of finding the college with the right fit, or best programs of study for their interests. Students will need to be careful as they consider their options.
  • Special incentives for binding Early Decision, such as special scholarships, special housing, or greater financial aid, may be a good thing, but may put extra pressure on students to make an early choice and to commit.
  • These changes will make it more difficult for colleges to determine their yields (the number of accepted students who choose to attend a college) because students may continue to change their minds. This may mean higher acceptance rates or longer waitlists.
  • Colleges may choose to raise their deposit fees to encourage students to honor their choice rather than forfeit the deposit if they change their mind.
  • Even after students begin to attend a college, they may continue to receive invitations to transfer from those schools to which they originally applied. Many students who struggle through their first year may find these offers appealing. It will be important that students consider the transfer process carefully to evaluate whether it makes sense for them.

Some of the new changes will work to some students’ benefit, while other students may find the admission process more lengthy, consuming, and confusing. It is important that parents and students be aware of how the new admission cycle works and why new offers may continue to come. Parents can help students process their experiences and make their decisions.

Related articles:

The Final Decision: Why Your High School Senior Might Be Stuck

The College Decision Dilemma

Turning the Page on the College Decision Dilemma

Saying “No, Thank You” to a College Acceptance


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