In the past, College Decision Day signified the deadline for seniors to choose the college or university they wanted to attend—the culmination of the college selection process. But the process has changed in a number of ways and for a variety of reasons.
The changes went largely under the radar during the pandemic, when the deadline for accepting college offers was temporarily extended by most schools.
Now, as the pandemic begins to ease, and college acceptance letters are arriving in student in-boxes, these changes—all made to the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Code of Ethics—have become more evident, and are taking some families by surprise.
Here’s what you need to be aware of:
What Is College Decision Day?
Traditionally, May 1 was the deadline for seniors to notify the college they were choosing to attend, send in a deposit, and alert the schools they would not attend.
Today, highly selective schools still follow the May 1 deadline, though other, less selective colleges may allow students to make deposits and secure a spot after the deadline.
For schools with wait lists, the May 1 date is fluid depending on the yield rate—the percent of students who choose to enroll in a particular college or university after being admitted. If a school hasn’t filled its class by May, they turn to their waitlist and continue to offer acceptances until they reach their enrollment goal.
Changes to NACAC’s Code of Ethics
Over the past few years, the Department of Justice (DOJ) began investigating NACAC, focusing on possible violations of antitrust laws that limited student choices in the college selection process.
The settlement involved major changes to their code of ethics. These changes have both positive and negative impacts. For example:
For smaller colleges, the changes may allow them to better compete with big-name colleges and universities by offering financial aid packages and incentives, such as special housing to encourage students to enroll faster.
Paying for College 101 (PFC101) group member Sabrina experienced this firsthand. “My daughter was offered a scholarship” she says, “but only if she committed by December 31. The college’s commitment date was still May 1.”
On the flip side, colleges will be able to continue recruiting students even after they have submitted a deposit at another school. This could extend the admissions process until the day a student moves into the dorms. Doing this inspires increased competition among schools, and provides students the opportunity to secure the best offer available.
Still, last-minute changes can be difficult for families to manage.
“I know a student who was ultimately choosing between two very similar engineering schools in the Northeast,” says PFC101 member Brenda. “One had offered $5,500 more, but they went with the other. On June 3, the $5,500 offer came back with an additional $13,000 (and they offered the same to a family friend). For them, it was too late because they were already going in their mind, had selected roommates, sports, etc. That was a LOT of money that got left on the table… It’s a lot to ask a student who’s already been through this process to change their mind, but it could pay off.”
Here’s more of what you need to know about the NACAC changes:
- Colleges are encouraged—but are no longer required—to have a consistent deadline that doesn’t call for students to accept an offer or commit to a school before May 1.
- Students may be required to accept a school’s early-decision admission offer and submit a deposit before May 1.
- Colleges can make admission to their institution, programs/majors, and/or selection for scholarships be on a first-come, first-served basis—though this information should be disclosed beforehand, according to NACAC’s updated code of ethics.
- A college can withdraw admissions offers if a student does not commit by whatever day the college deemed as the deadline for a decision, even if that day is long before May 1.
- Colleges can require an enrollment commitment in order to secure housing.
Read the Fine Print
When your student fills out college applications, and starts receiving offers from schools, be sure you review them together and ask specific questions about deadlines.
“I will definitely keep an eye on this for my two younger kids that graduate in 2026 and 2028,” says PFC101 member Stacie. “It’s crazy how much this is all changing!”
Remember, College Decision Day is a guide—a suggestion—but not mandatory for schools to follow.
At Road2College, we understand that choosing where to go to college is one of the biggest financial decisions your student will make.
*PFC101 member quotes were edited for clarity and flow.
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