College Admissions Ethics Guidelines

If you’re paying attention to the news, you may be aware that the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) recently voted to eliminate portions of its ethics code regarding student recruitment. The result is that colleges can now offer special incentives to students applying under binding Early Decision policies, continue to recruit students who have already committed elsewhere, and recruit students who were admitted but enrolled elsewhere.

Much has been written about the impact to college admissions and college finance, but what does all of this mean for students applying to college? We see some positives and a few potential negatives to these changes.

The Positives

In theory, more competition will mean lower prices and increased incentives for students and families. Removing prohibitions surrounding recruitment means that we may see colleges offering greater sums of merit aid to students who, having committed elsewhere, are willing to change their minds if cheaper options become available.

In addition, we might see some universities proffering special financial and other incentives, such as preferred housing, to those committing to binding Early Decision programs.

It’s also possible that some institutions will start using merit aid, traditionally fairly limited for this group, to attract more transfer students.

The Negatives

It’s hard to imagine how some colleges won’t be harmed by these changes. Financial aid offices will be stretched even further as they package and repackage aid options for students well after May 1. Many will likely have to offer deeper and deeper discounts to fill their incoming classes, which could affect higher education in the same way that extreme markdowns have negatively impacted the retail industry.

For students and families, this creates even more uncertainty about which colleges are financially strong and likely to be around in a few years.

Ironically, some of these changes will most likely help wealthier students. Binding Early Decision programs have often been the province of students who could forgo comparing financial aid packages from multiple schools. Even special financial incentives might not be worth giving up that opportunity for those with fewer resources who need to weigh their options.

In addition, institutions will likely focus on non-needy students who applied in the prior year when emailing past prospects/applicants about transfer opportunities and deadlines. Colleges that need to enroll students want as many of them as possible to be full-pay.

What Can You Do Now?

Plan ahead and talk things through. Make some decisions about when you want to be done with the process. Will you be open to offers well after May 1? What is the magic number that will change your plans?

Engage your school counselor in these conversations. This process has traditionally been wrapped up by May 1, but new offers arriving after that deadline could dramatically change things. Does your counselor have a deadline for when you need to notify them to send out a final transcript? What about if they are already on their summer break? How will these requests be handled then?

Check in again during the first year. How do you all feel about transferring? Is this something you would consider for a more appealing financial package? Or do you want to commit to your choice once you’ve finalized it and actually enrolled?

The more you talk through these possibilities, the less uncertainty will be injected into your life as a college student. Which in turn means more time to focus on the actual task at hand—being a college student.


Written by Elizabeth Heaton
Elizabeth Heaton is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Before coming to College Coach, Beth worked as a senior admissions officer at University of Pennsylvania and an alumni admissions ambassador at Cornell University. Visit our website to learn more about Elizabeth Heaton.