Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Changes in College Admissions Deadlines Mean Changes for Counselors

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

A couple of major changes were made this weekend to the code of ethics for the National Association for College Admission Counseling. It’s hard to say what real effect they will have on school counselors, but here’s what you need to be ready for.

Change 1—how long colleges can pursue students Under the old rules, most colleges gave students until May 1 to pick the college they were heading to in the fall. After that, if a student told your college “I’m not coming”, the college had to leave the student alone. No more mailing, no more phone calls, and no additional financial aid incentives to try and buy them away from another school.

That’s the way it was until this weekend.

Now, even if a student tells a college “I’m not interested anymore,” the college can still contact the student to get them to change their mind. They can offer more scholarship money, better housing, first shot at scheduling classes, Patriots tickets—you name it. This can go on even after the student starts taking classes at another college. Under the new scenario, colleges can continue to pursue students as transfer students, even though the student hasn’t expressed an interest in transferring.

Colleges can still ask students to submit a deposit by May 1, to be sure, and it’s pretty likely some colleges won’t keep talking to students who have said “thanks, but no thanks”. But now, they can if they want.

This has happened because the Department of Justice has determined the old way of doing things could have prevented students from getting a better deal from another college. By extending the time colleges can offer students incentives to come, the argument goes, more students might be eligible for better financial aid packages and more—so now they get more time.

Change 2—what colleges can offer students who apply Early Decision A handful of colleges have a special application program called Early Decision. This means the student applies early to the college—typically in November or December—and promises to attend that college if they are admitted early. For the colleges, this is a great deal, since they know way ahead of time who’s coming to their school, and how much financial aid they need. Students accepted ED get to relax the rest of senior year, knowing their college plans are all set.

As of this weekend, colleges can now offer special incentives to get more students to apply ED. It used to be they couldn’t entice students with more scholarship or better housing or anything—they just got to apply early. That’s out the window now; if the college wants to give you a bonus for telling them “You’re the one”, they can.

What does this mean to school counselors? It’s hard to say, but it likely means you’ll have more students in your office after May 1 with brand new, better financial aid offers from some colleges they had stopped caring about. But now that the reality of paying for college is settling in, a couple thousand additional dollars in scholarship sounds pretty great—so, Counselor, what should I do?

Since these new offers can be made throughout the summer, it’s possible—possible—you’re going to need at least one counselor on duty throughout the summer to help students make sense of these new offers. You’ll also need to make sure someone is around to send final transcripts to more colleges, since students could be changing their minds in July and August—and that will be perfectly OK.

It’s also important to make sure you tell parents about these changes. Mom and Dad may be used to the old rules working for their older kids who already graduated. If they suddenly get a mid-May offer from a college, they may automatically decide it’s a scam, unless they know about the new rules. Be sure to bring them up to speed.

For the new ED rules, make sure the student understands that applying ED still means the student will attend that school, and that school only, if they are admitted. ED is only for students who love, love, love the school. It doesn’t matter how pretty the incentives are. If the student finds out January 15 they’re admitted ED, then spends January 16 wondering if they made the right decision, that’s going to be a problem. Make sure they understand the commitment.


  1. This is a very helpful and easy to understand summary of the changes that occurred at NACAC (especially for those of us who couldn't be there). Thank you.

  2. Thanks as always for your comments and insights, Patrick. I am wondering if there has been any chatter about colleges/universities raising their deposit fees on May 1st to hedge their bets so to speak and what that might mean for students who deposit to a US school but are still awaiting IB results for say, a possible choice in the UK or elsewhere.

  3. Come on Patrick, stop perpetuating the myth that ED is only for students who "love love love" their first choice school and will have no recourse if they get accepted. This perspective implies that "only the rich should consider ED", and makes it a province of the wealthy and the elite. The actual ED contract states that the ED candidate will attend the school PROVIDED THAT THE COLLEGE MEETS THEIR FINANCIAL NEED. For the majority of middle income families that caveat becomes an important way for them to understand what to expect in terms of financial aid, as well as leverage should they need to appeal for additional money.

    This further raises the issue of WHO DETERMINES NEED - the college or the family? Most folks in the business waive that right to the colleges themselves. I don't. Families are better able to determine their need, and should be empowered to do so. Honesty and ethics rule large here, and consultants like myself are behooved to speak honestly and make sure the system isn't being abused or taken advantage of, but to presume otherwise is to perpetuate inequality and unfairness which ED currently does.

  4. Another point - it seems as if your article was poorly edited, as your explanation for what "Change #2 means for counselors" is not on point at all, and seems to be addressing "Change #1" a second time. What "Change #2" actually means for counselors is to expect more shenanigans from colleges trying to incentivize the best and the brightest to forgo their chance to "play the field" and get multiple offers, and instead choose their school by committing ED. Reed College has been stating for years that their limited merit money is reserved for ED candidates. That's unethical but they get away with it (at least they're transparent about it).