Timothy Peck 4 min read 12th Grade, Applying to College

National College Decision Day: Everything You Need to Know

You put in the work over the past four years. You earned great grades, scored well on your standardized tests, and participated in a robust number of extracurricular activities—the result? You were accepted into some stellar schools. Now comes the hard part: deciding between them. And while the college admission process seems to go on and on, National College Decision Day—the time when you must make your final decision about where to attend college—will be here before you know it. 

 

What is National College Decision Day? When is it?

 

National College Decision Day, also called simply National Decision Day, takes place every year on May 1st*. Decision Day is the time when college applicants across the country must make their decision on which school they’ll attend in the fall. Applicants are asked to signal their plans of attending a particular college by signing a letter of intent to enroll, along with submitting a deposit to hold their place in the freshman class. 

 

*National College Decision Day traditionally takes place every May 1, but the coronavirus pandemic has led many institutions to push back the date in 2020 to June 1 or later. You can find a current list of Decision Days at specific schools at CollegeVine’s COVID-19 Info Center

 

What Do You Need to Do for National Decision Day?

 

For many high schoolers, National College Decision Day is the largest decision they’ll have ever made in their young lives. With so much at stake—time, money, career aspirations, etc.—making this decision can feel daunting, but breaking down the process into a few simple steps can ease the unrest. 

 

Review your preferences: Think about what your ideal college experience looks like. Are you dreaming of going to a school in a big city, or is your perfect college located in a rural town? Are big-time college sports important? How about the weather? Do you have a particular major in mind? If so, do all of the schools on your list offer it? Ticking the colleges off your list that don’t meet the expectations of your quintessential college experience is a great way to narrow the field. 

 

Research your schools in-depth: Gather as much information as you can about the colleges on your list. Reviewing their brochures, revisiting their social media channels, and reading reviews are all great ways to get reacquainted with an institution. Connecting with students or faculty and picking their brains about their personal experiences can also be helpful, since they may have make-or-break insight. 

 

Go over financial aid and costs: The decision of which college you choose to attend will ripple through your life in a variety of ways, and for many students, one of those ways is debt. Take a look at the colleges you’re deciding between and compare the prices. 

 

Look into ROI: The more expensive a school is, the more debt you’re likely to graduate with; however, you’ll also want to compare colleges’ return on investment (ROI). Choosing a school that is slightly less expensive per year is a great decision, provided you graduate in four years—if you need to spend an extra year to graduate, it might end up more expensive. Likewise, if you attend a school to prepare for a career path with high earning potential, incurring extra debt isn’t as important of a consideration. 

What Should Waitlisted Students Do?

 

If you’re still waitlisted at your dream school when National Decision Day rolls around, your odds of getting accepted are low. Selective colleges granted spots to only 14% of waitlisted applicants in 2017, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Even if you’re accepted at an institution that waitlisted you, you’re at the back of the line for grants and other forms of financial aid. Similarly, students accepted before you at the school may have earlier access to on-campus housing, which could leave you scrambling for a place to stay in the fall. 

 

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but students should secure a spot at another college by signing a letter of intent and paying a deposit. The deposit amount varies by school, but in general, it’s a nominal amount of money (at least compared to the overall cost of college). Unfortunately, the deposit is often non-refundable. If you do get accepted to your dream school after National Decision Day, and you decide to enroll there, you’ll simply have to forfeit that deposit. 

 

What if I Miss the Deadline?

 

Missing the deadline is problematic—the majority of colleges strictly adhere to it and do not accept late decisions. Your best course of action is to call the college’s admissions office immediately and explain your situation, making sure to highlight if something prevented you from meeting the deadline. Follow up your conversation with an email detailing what you discussed, and thank the admissions officer for their time and attention. 

 

If you miss the National Decision Day deadline, and the school you were hoping to attend is inflexible, all hope isn’t lost. A 2017 survey of admissions directors found that only 34% of colleges had met their enrollment targets by May 1st, meaning many institutions are still looking to fill their ranks. Even the schools that meet their enrollment targets are subject to “summer melt,” which is when a student is accepted to a college in the spring but fails to show up in the fall. According to surveys, “summer melt” affects up to one third of all students who leave high school with plans to attend college. Contact other schools you were accepted to, explain any extenuating circumstances, and see if they’re still willing to have you enroll—it doesn’t hurt to ask.

 

Have a question about National College Decision Day or anything else? Ask the CollegeVine community. Our free CollegeVine Questions & Answers page connects you with experts to answer your questions—the more you participate, the more Karma and expert access you gain.

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Timothy Peck
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.