“You Have Rights!”

Do you know you have rights as a college applicant?

Well, you do. As you apply to colleges, you have the right to certain information about them including information about how much it will cost you to attend. According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), a member organization that includes more than 11,000 college access professionals around the USA and beyond, you have the right to:

  • “Receive factual and comprehensive information from colleges and universities about their admission, financial costs, aid opportunities, practices and packaging policies, and housing policies. If you consider applying under an early admission plan, you have the right to complete information from the college about its process and policies.”
  • “Be free from high-pressure sales tactics.”
  • “Wait until May 1 to respond to an offer of (Regular) admission or financial aid.”

In order to make good decisions, you need good information and, quite often, a reasonable amount of time in which to consider your options. Toward that end, NACAC further stipulates that:

  • “Colleges that request commitments to offers of admission and/or financial assistance prior to May 1 must clearly offer you the opportunity to request (in writing) an extension until May 1. They must grant you the extension and your request may not jeopardize your status for admission and/or financial aid.”
  • “Candidates admitted under Early Decision programs are a recognized exception to the May 1 deadline.”

It is important to note that May 1 is regarded as the “Candidate’s Reply Date”—the date by which admitted applicants must make their final college choices. That date was established years ago to allow students a reasonable amount of time to consider their college options and to give colleges a date by which they could begin the registration process (course selections and housing) for the coming year. If you are not an Early Decision candidate, then, you should be afforded time to process admission decisions and financial aid awards that you receive from various colleges and universities.

That said, it is easy to fall prey to pressures to make enrollment commitments before you are ready. For example, you may have already encountered enticements such as early or “priority” application deadlines associated with scholarships or housing preferences. Some colleges may offer you scholarships that you can only claim by enrolling well ahead of May 1. And, if you applied to schools that offer “Rolling Admission,” you may be offered admission with the expectation that you will submit a non-refundable enrollment deposit—as soon as possible!

If you feel uncomfortable about the conditions that seem to be placed on your admission status, there is probably a good reason to proceed with caution. Listen to your instincts. And recognize the circumstances for what they are. The colleges in question are attempting to secure as many enrolled students as early in the process as possible.

If you don’t feel you are in possession of the information necessary to allow you to move forward comfortably with a particular college, ask for an extension. It’s not likely that your enrollment opportunity will be withdrawn if you miss a deadline (May 1 is the possible exception). And communicate your concerns with your college advisor as well. If the college remains insistent, ask yourself whether this is the sort of place with which you want to be associated for the next four years.

NACAC has produced a number of important documents that help to define ethical behavior for everyone involved in the admission process. To learn more about your rights and responsibilities as an applicant, visit the Student and Parent Resources page of the NACAC website and look for Students’ Rights and Responsibilities under NACAC Resources. In addition, you may find the Statement of Principles of Good Practice, a document that guides the actions of colleges and universities, to be instructive as well.

Consumer Tips
Speaking of “rights,” you also have the right to receive, upon request, the following information from colleges (be sure to ask for it in writing):

  • Four-year graduation rates (get data for 3-5 years)
  • Placement data for recent graduates (types of jobs, names of grad schools)
  • Crime statistics for the campus
  • Campus security provisions




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