With the first half of your college search at its end, you’re now dealing with several offices of admission more directly. Fortunately for you, all of these colleges (at least those that belong to the National Association of College Admission Counseling) agree to follow a professional code of ethics to preserve the integrity of the college choice process. It’s called the Statement of Principles of Good Practice. I’ll be honest, the document is a little dense and just as boring as it sounds. So, I’ve selected five principles, broken them down, and offer them to you now as must-know information as you make your way through the college search homestretch.

1.) Colleges agree not to use disparaging comparisons of postsecondary institutions.
So, let’s say you get a call from your admission counselor and you ask about the quality of the residence facilities on campus. If instead of lauding the swanky accommodations at his institution, he says, “better than the grody dwellings of X College,” you got a deal breaker. For any admission counselor to describe an aspect of his college by way of highlighting another’s weakness is bad form, regardless of topic. Additionally, as admission counsleors, we each know our own place very well; we don’t know other places well enough to make comparative judgments.

2.) Colleges agree not to require or ask you to indicate the order of your college preferences, except under Early Decision.
Giving up a ranked list of prospective colleges is tantamount to reading your hand aloud on poker night. You’re not the only person weighing outcomes during your college search; colleges have a vested interest in keeping admit rates reasonably low. So, if a school knows you’re not likely to matriculate based on where they fall on your list, the admission committee—consciously or subconsciously—may elect to not offer admission or allocate as much of its financial aid budget to you, the applicant. Early Decision plans are the exception to the rule here because by applying Early Decision, you are in effect stating what your first-choice school is.

3.) Colleges must permit first-year candidates for fall admission to choose among offers of admission, financial aid and scholarships until May 1st.
This is big, so I’ll to look to my caps lock key for emphasis. YOU HAVE UNTIL MAY 1st TO MAKE YOUR COLLEGE DECISION. PERIOD. The date is standardized to ensure you aren’t coerced into reserving a spot at one institution before equally weighing offers from other prospective schools—scholarship athletics being the notable exception.

4.) Colleges will ensure that financial aid, scholarship offers, and housing options are not used to manipulate commitments prior to May 1st.
This goes hand in hand with the prior point. When the Statement of Principles and Good Practice was put into play, the authors realized there was a gray area in which a school could employ a May 1st decision deadline, but then make secondary offers with earlier deadlines (such as scholarship or housing reservations) to influence your decision. Sure, you still have until May 1st to make your deposit into the class, but if you don’t want to miss out on these other opportunities, you’ll need to make a separate statement of intent.

Remember: prior to May 1st, a college should only encourage you to focus on whether or not their institution is a good fit, everything else can wait until May 2nd and beyond. That being said, it’s worth mentioning that many institutions collect housing deposits before May 1st as standard practice, but without the intent of manipulating a commitment. How can you tell the difference? Make sure the deposit is fully refundable up to May 1st. It can be a bit confusing, so keep in mind you can always address your concerns with a guidance counselor if you feel you’re being treated unfairly.

5.) Colleges must establish wait list procedures that ensure no student on any wait list is asked for a deposit in order to remain on the wait list or for a commitment to enroll prior to receiving an official written offer of admission.
While not a very common practice, colleges have been known to guage interest among their wait-listed students by requesting deposits before actual offers of admission. It amounts to little more than an admission risk management tactic, but strips you of your right to make your own fully informed choice. If you are currently sitting on the wait list at any college, the best way to show continued interest is to stay in touch with your admission counselor and excel at current coursework. You should never feel pressured to buy your way off any wait list.

Now, what happens if you suspect a NACAC institution of operating outside these practices? Notify your high school guidance counselor. He or she will be able to advise you on what to do next as well as act as a professional intermediary between you and the college in question.

As a general rule, anything that an admission office does to make you feel uncomfortable should be brought to the attention of its staff one way or another. As an admission counselor myself, I can assure you we want to know about your concerns so that we can make the college search as positive an experience as possible, not only for you, but future applicants as well.

Note: Due to the 2011 calendar year, the decision deadline for all NACAC institutions has been moved to Monday, May 2nd.

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