Please read on for a statement from the National Association for College Admission Counseling that describes fundamental changes beginning with the Class of 2020 regarding the Early Decision process and the May 1st deadline, the date that students commit to a college. It is important that those engaged in or soon to engage in the college application process take the time to read this statement.

In September, members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) met at their annual national conference and approved changes in their code of ethics which describe how students should be treated in the college admission process. NACAC ( is an organization representing more than 15,000 professionals at colleges and universities, high schools, and community-based organizations, as well as independent education counselors, and its ethical code is followed by institutions and individuals throughout the United States. 

At the national conference in Louisville, NACAC made changes in its code, called the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP).

For the last two years, NACAC has been subject to an antitrust investigation by the Department of Justice. The DOJ holds the opinion that some of the rules in the CEPP restrain how and when colleges compete for students. In an attempt to try to settle the DOJ complaint, NACAC removed from the CEPP three provisions that the department believes inhibits competition among colleges, two having to do with Early Decision applications and the May 1 college decision deadline.

Changes to Early Decision
The CEPP previously stated that colleges could not offer any incentive to students to encourage them to apply under a binding Early Decision program. Examples quoted directly from the CEPP include the promise of special housing, enhanced financial aid packages, and special scholarships for Early Decision admits.

Following votes taken at the NACAC conference in September, that prohibition was removed, effective immediately.

This means that colleges could begin to offer students incentives to apply under a binding Early Decision program. (Most ED deadlines are early November or early January.) Early decision is a very serious commitment, and we don’t encourage students to apply ED unless it is a clear first choice and the students and families understand the financial ramifications of applying to a binding program. While it is not likely that colleges will act quickly enough to begin offering incentives this year, it is possible. We ask students to inform their college counselors if they receive any unusual solicitations from colleges to apply ED, and we ask that parents also keep an eye out for such offers.

May 1 Response Date
May 1 is known as the universal reply date in college admission. It is the deadline for students who have not already done so to commit to a college for next fall. Previously, the CEPP prohibited colleges from trying to “poach” a student who has indicated their intent to enroll in another college — no incentives to change their mind, no last-minute scholarships or other benefits.

That rule, also, was removed from the CEPP, effective immediately.

We will not know the impact of this rule change until after May 1. We are hopeful that most colleges will still respect the ethical guidelines spelled out in other parts of the CEPP and will respect a student’s right to make a college choice free from harassment and the stress of confusing offers and counteroffers. 

NACAC Response
The CEPP remains a very strong statement of professional ethics and guidelines. It emphasizes NACAC’s belief that “advocating for the best interests of students in the admission process is the primary ethical concern of our profession.” NACAC’s president has asked member institutions to uphold our beliefs, even in the absence of those explicit rules.