The College Search: When Must I Decide?

In general, colleges and universities have the same deadline by which you must accept their offer of admission.

May 12, 2010 7:30:18 AM PDT
The deadline for notifying a university that you're accepting their admissions offer will depend on how you applied. Early Action candidates are automatically enrolled as soon as the acceptance is received, although you'll need to fill out forms and formally respond in a prompt manner.

Regular Decision and Early Decision applicants almost always have until May 1 to decide. There's a reason most schools adhere to this universal deadline. Admissions officers realize that you may have more than one offer on the table, and it makes little sense to try to force you into accepting their offer sooner than everyone else's. After all, they want you to have all the time you need to come to the decision that's right for you. Otherwise, you may choose badly and wind up dropping-out or changing schools, which would be a lose-lose situation. You'd have your college career disrupted, and the university's public relations would take a hit, since colleges generally like to be able to report a high retention rate.

One note: if you wind-up with several acceptances in your lap, but you're sure you've ruled-out a couple of them, the decent thing to do is to promptly notify the schools that aren't going to make the cut. This is especially true if you're turning down scholarship money. It helps the college to know where they stand, in terms of filling their seats. And that scholarship money may be made available to another prospective student. Also, you could be making way for another candidate sitting on the school's wait-list, which will come as a great relief to that person. Of course, you should not back-out of any deal unless you're 100-percent sure you want out. If you change your mind later, it may be too late to get back in.

Don't feel bad about turning down colleges, though. Most offer admission to far more students than they can actually accommodate, because they know they're only going to land a fraction of those they invite. In fact, at one open house for accepted candidates I attended, the Dean of an Honors College began his speech by congratulating everyone on their acceptances, and then saying bluntly that he hoped not everybody would accept, because in that case, the school would be in big trouble!

For the life of me, I don't get how this system works, except to say that colleges have had years of experience in this business, and somehow, most seem to get about the number of students they were expecting most years.

MORE COLLEGE SEARCH ARTICLES: High School Course/Activities, ACT/SAT, How Many Colleges Should I Put On My List?, Compiling A List, Unsolicited Brochures, Campus Visits, Applying For Admission, Types of Applications, 529 Accounts, Myths About The Cost, Can I Ask For More Aid?,Upromise, The Best Way To Pay, College Troubles, College Depression, NCAA Athletics, Athletic Scholarships, The College Search Preface Read more Parenting Perspective blogs by visiting the Parenting Channel on