First, it is important to know that almost all colleges comply with the Mandatory Practices of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), which include:
[Colleges] agree they will permit first-year candidates for fall admission to choose among offers of admission and institutionally-affiliated financial aid and scholarships until May 1, and state this deadline explicitly in their offers of admission, and not establish policies nor engage in practices whose effect is to manipulate commitments prior to May 1.
May first is next Monday, leaving almost no time left for students who have not yet made up their mind. And why would a student still be undecided about their college choice? There are several reasons why this might happen.
- Students whose first choice(s) did not offer sufficient financial aid to make their favorite school a practical financial choice might still be speaking to the Financial Aid Office, trying to improve the package offered to them. If they have already gone through this process, they might still be exploring family resources (grandparents, perhaps) and other ways to help make up the tuition gap to allow them to accept the offer.
- Family issues can upend even the best thought out plans. A "local" choice can become long distance (and possibly less desirable) following an unexpected family move. Death or divorce can change both the family arrangements and available resources for some students. These graduating seniors may need all the time they can get to figure out their next steps.
- Health issues - medical or emotional - can arise that may impact a student's decision. A flare up or sudden onset of either kind of condition can mean that college enrollment may need to wait a semester or more.
- The "once in a lifetime" opportunity. Some fortunate students may have a last minute option to do something truly special -- travel the world, join an orchestra (or a rock band, ballet company, or Broadway production), work on a science project -- that might make it worthwhile for them to postpone their enrollment.
For those students who are not simply undecided, but who may have be faced with one of the situations described above, the best path is to immediately contact your desired school's Office of Admissions and see if postponing your enrollment for a year (or a semester) is possible. This is less likely to be granted if your postponement is due to financial reasons. But it never hurts to ask. Why ask? Because deferring enrollment has important benefits, including not starting the application process over again and knowing that you will be admitted when your period of deferment is over.
And what about students who are torn between two or more acceptances and are waiting until the last minute to make up their minds? It isn't easy to decide, but they should know that more than one-third of college students transfer to another school.