What Is College Decision Day?

What is College Decision Day? For some high school seniors, it's one of the biggest days of their lives. Here's what you need to know.
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Updated on May 5, 2023
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  • National College Decision Day traditionally lands on the first day of May each year.
  • Decision Day is when first-year applicants commit to a college.
  • Double depositing is considered unethical, but students sometimes do it.
  • Be sure to prepare for Decision Day to avoid problems.

In general, U.S. colleges and universities accept first-year applications in the fall and send out admission decisions in the spring. But exactly when is Decision Day for prospective students?

Traditionally, applicants must commit to a college by May 1. Once you receive an offer letter, you can respond at any point before that date to secure your spot.

Students often apply to several colleges at once, even if they have a specific school in mind. Community colleges and four-year institutions with rolling admission offer more flexibility, with multiple deadlines throughout the year.

Keep reading to learn more about College Decision Day, including the ethics of double deposits and how to prepare for the day.

Do You Have to Choose a College on Decision Day?

For most U.S. colleges and universities, first-year applicants (who apply regular decision) must decide where to enroll by May 1. This means you can confirm your enrollment and submit your nonrefundable enrollment deposit anytime before this date.

Students who apply early decision receive their admission decisions much earlier, usually in mid-December. Because early decision is binding — meaning you must attend that school if admitted — you're essentially making your college decision well before College Decision Day in May.

Students can back out of early decision under certain circumstances, such as a family emergency or insufficient financial aid. If you back out for other reasons, such as deciding to attend a different school because you think it'll be a better fit, you'll likely face penalties for getting out of the early decision contract.

Note that you can change your mind after accepting admission to a college, but you'll likely lose your enrollment deposit, which is typically nonrefundable and helps to secure your spot.

What Is Double Depositing? Can You Do It?

Double depositing is when a student puts down an enrollment deposit after accepting an offer of admission at more than one college. While possible, double depositing is generally considered unethical. What's more, deposits are usually nonrefundable, so you'll lose money in the end.

Still, some students consider submitting a double deposit to buy some time. Accepting more than one offer also gives you more time to negotiate financial aid and compare your options.

Why Is Accepting Multiple Offers Unethical?

Because a student can't attend multiple colleges, accepting multiple offers of admission is widely considered unethical.

What's more, some schools may even rescind an offer of admission if they discover a student has put down a second deposit at another school. Remember, putting down a deposit on College Decision Day means you plan to enroll at that university — and that university only.

Double depositing is the same as saying you're planning to attend both schools. Doing so is considered unethical because you're basically lying to one of the colleges.

Double depositing is unfair to other applicants as well since you're claiming a spot at a school you will ultimately not attend.

If a student decides to attend a different school after making their deposit, they should contact an admissions officer at the institution immediately. This person can help them determine the next steps in declining their acceptance before making a deposit at the other school.

How to Prepare for Decision Day

It's essential to research everything from tuition to transportation options before applying to a college. After all, you'll be there four years. If you're wondering how to commit to a college, start with a list of considerations that will help you compare institutions.

How Students Can Prepare

Preparing for College Decision Day usually means narrowing down your choices. You should also think about how to accept a college offer. For example, find out whether the colleges you're applying to require a deposit. Knowing what's expected ahead of time can help you plan your finances.

You can also find out whether the school offers an extended deposit deadline. Additionally, reach out to the colleges on your list to learn about programs, advisors, student services, and other amenities.

How Parents/Guardians Can Prepare

Parents and guardians can prepare for Decision Day by talking to their students about finances.

They can also help students navigate the paperwork and find scholarships. It's important to hold conversations around the cost of attendance, financial aid obligations, and taking out loans.

Parents and guardians are essential in the college planning process, especially when it comes to filling out the FAFSA. Prepare for Decision Day by completing the FAFSA early on to ensure more time for reviewing financial aid packages.

What Should I Do If I Miss Decision Day?

Students miss Decision Day for various reasons. If you miss the May 1 deadline, contact the admissions office to explain your circumstances. A family emergency, a natural disaster, or the COVID-19 pandemic might have made the deadline impossible for you to meet.

Sometimes the college will be flexible when there's a legitimate reason and grant an extension. However, colleges are usually strict about College Decision Day deadlines. For the most part, deadlines are final.

If you missed the deadline, you might consider taking a gap year and reapplying the following year when the application process starts again.

Another option is to apply to a college with rolling admission. You could even enroll at a community college to complete some general education requirements and then transfer later.

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