In order to empower individuals to apply and advocate for ethical practice in college admission, NACAC created a series of dilemmas to use as educational tools. Presented with each dilemma are discussion topics, possible approaches, and a reference to the appropriate section in the Guide to Ethical Practices in College Admission

Confidentiality

Dilemma

An admission representative from Goal University places a call to a counselor at Eagle High School to discuss an applicant. In the conversation, the admission rep asks if the counselor knows if Goal University is at the top of her list or not, saying that “the kid is on the bubble, and it would be great to have this information.”

Discussion Topics

  • Are these conversations ever professionally appropriate?
  • Why do you think the admission officer is asking this? And why might it be perceived as a problem to the counselor?
  • Does the scenario change based on when the question is being asked (original admission review? Deferred student? Waitlisted student?)

Possible Approach

On the phone call, a counselor might consider asking the admission officer why it is important to know the answer to their question. Counselor can remind the admission officer that the student has a careful and thoughtful list - one in which every school on the list is a place that the student would be delighted to receive an admission offer.  Counselor can also state that it isn’t the counselor’s role to tell, or even know, any kind of rank order and that they stand behind that student’s candidacy at the particular institution. Counselor might remind the admission counselor that some factors may influence a final decision and that it is the student’s right to compare financial aid packages, merit scholarships, or a multitude of other factors that are unknowable until all offers are received. 

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section I.C Members should:
  • Not ask candidates, their counselors, their schools, or others to divulge or rank order their college preferences on applications or other documents.

Dilemma

Susan has applied to Achievement University and in a conversation with an alumni interviewer, she was directly asked to divulge to what other institutions she has applied for admission. While Susan continued with the interview in order to fulfill the requirement for her admission to Achievement University, this question made her uncomfortable and uncertain for what this may mean for her admissibility to Achievement University based on the other schools she is considering.

Discussion Topics

  • Why do you think this question made Susan uncomfortable?
  • What implications or perceived implications could her response have on her final admissions decision?
  • What are some different ways you could handle this situation?

Possible Approach

A tenant of the Guide is that we take the time to educate our constituents (fellow members, colleagues, and the students with whom we work) on their rights in the college admissions process and one of these is confidentiality and trust.  While Susan may not feel she has the place to complain to the office of admission at the institution where she hopes to enroll, Susan should feel empowered to discuss this scenario with her college counselor or parents who may be able to speak on her behalf.

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section I.C Members should:
  • Not ask candidates, their counselors, their schools, or others to divulge or rank order their college preferences on applications or other documents.
As referenced in the Core Values: Professionalism:
  • We are responsible for the integrity of our actions, and insofar as we can affect them, the actions of our member institutions, organizations, and individuals.  *In this case, the alumni interviewer is an individual representing a member institution. 

Dilemma

The scholarship application for Target University requires students to upload two teacher letters of recommendation and doesn’t offer an alternative method of submitting the documents to keep the letter of recommendation confidential. Unfortunately, in your high school’s handbook it prohibits giving students copies of their recommendation letters because that would violate the school’s confidentiality standards. You don’t want your student to miss out on a scholarship opportunity, but you also can’t violate your school’s policy. Your teachers write honest, thoughtful, and truthful letters because they can remain confidential.

Discussion Topics

  • Why would a university ask students to upload their own letters?
  • Can the university’s scholarship committee access documents submitted through the admission process?
  • Perhaps the university doesn’t require - or even accept - letters of recommendation for admission.  If the scholarship process is completely independent of the admission process, should the admission office be more involved to facilitate this process?

Possible Approach

Hopefully a phone call will solve the issue! Call the appropriate office at Target University and explain the situation. Once it becomes clear that the student will not be able to apply for the scholarship, and thus be less likely to enroll at the university, a solution can usually be found. Rarely will the college alter the entire application process, but they often will allow the counselor to submit the recommendation letters via email as an alternative. Advocating for a more long-term solution in the future is advised, but sometimes the small present-day win is enough. While Susan may not feel she has the place to complain to the office of admission at the institution where she hopes to enroll, Susan should feel empowered to discuss this scenario with her college counselor or parents who may be able to speak on her behalf.

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section I.C:
  • The college admission and counseling community depends on trust. An important component in building this trust is maintaining confidentiality.
  • Members should
    • Send and receive information about candidates in confidence and protect the confidentiality of all information that is shared
    • Adhere to their institution’s policies for confidentiality.

Dilemma

During lunch, the Social Studies teacher says, “Oh, where did Elizabeth get accepted? I bet she applied to some big-name schools. How much scholarship money has she received?”

Discussion Topics

  • Do admission decisions and scholarship information belong to the school or the student?
  • Does the school have the authority to share any of that information internally or externally? If so, when? Is that process clearly communicated to students and families and handled systematically by the institution?

Possible Approach

“Elizabeth has future plans she is really excited about.  You should ask her about them! We encourage students to be in control of their process, including how and if to share their admission decisions.  It is ultimately their information to share, their story to tell.”  Then, you could take the conversation a few different directions. You could encourage the teacher to connect with the student, or you could steer the conversation toward the entire class, by saying something like “I’m so proud of the Class of 2021. They have been working extra hard this year!”

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section I.C Members should:
  • Not divulge an individual student’s college application status, admission, enrollment, or financial aid and scholarship offers without express permission from the student.

Truthfulness & Transparency

Dilemma

During a college presentation, you hear:  “Our institution has the second highest graduation rate in the state.” Upon a quick Google search, you realize the Admission Officer is incorrect. Their institution has the second highest graduation rate out of the public universities in the state, but out of all universities in the state they actually have the 7th highest graduation rate. They also didn’t give the students the exact graduation rate percentage.

Discussion Topics

  • What are some different ways you could handle this situation?
  • What are some follow-up questions you could ask the institutional representative for clarification (For example, “Could you clarify or let me know your source?”)?

Possible Approach

If possible, speak to the Admission Officer one-on-one at the end of the presentation. Thank them for visiting your school and sharing information about their institution. Then, present the problem. “In the presentation, you mentioned your institution has the 2nd highest graduation in the state. Based on my research, I think this is a misrepresentation of the information. Do you know where you received this information?” Hopefully this will begin a productive conversation that leads to a correction of the information shared.

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section I.A Members should:
  • Share information about students that is relevant to the college admission process as well as accurate, up-to-date, and free from misrepresentation of fact or material omissions.

Dilemma

Candid School provides colleges and universities each year with a school profile document, outlining courses offered annually, grading scales, and historic averages of its previous graduating class. It comes to the attention of an admissions office that data reported on these documents does not reflect the most updated information (submitting previous years’ data, only changing the date range in the header with no changes to reported information from previous year, and does not accurately portray grading scale details, etc.).

Discussion Topics

  • What could be possible reasons why the profile from Candid School would be out of date?
  • Why is it important for the information to be accurate?
  • When seeking clarification, who should the admission officer consult?
  • What is the counselor perspective? The student perspective? The Admissions office perspective?

Possible Approach

It is important to give the benefit of doubt in these particular scenarios, because our work should be conducted out of a place of collaboration, collegiality, and trust. Colleges may use information provided on these documents to understand context of school and/or course availability. Incorrect data may directly impact how an applicant is reviewed for admission. An initial step would be to encourage the admissions representative to contact the college counselor to inquire about updated data or confirmation of data. This also provides the additional benefit of relationship building across the desk.

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section I.A Members should:
  • Accurately describe, represent, and promote their schools, institutions, organizations and services to students and to colleagues and should not misrepresent themselves or their institutions
  • Share information about students that is relevant to the college admission process as well as accurate, up-to-date, and free from misrepresentation of fact or material omissions.

Dilemma

Susie, an American citizen, has spent her high school years in Mozambique, where her father works. Although she identifies as white, she decides to apply to college identifying herself as African-American, reasoning that she has lived on both continents and believes this may afford her an admissions edge.

Discussion Topics

  • How would you advise Susie?
  • Do her intentions matter in this situation?
  • If you are counseling Susie, what is your obligation in this situation?

Possible Approach

In this scenario, a counselor might begin by asking Susie if she knows the definition of African-American. Merriam-Webster defines it as “an American of African and especially of Black African descent.” Descent is an important word in this definition. Many definitions also refer to descendants of enslaved Africans. A counselor might also approach this conversation with questions such as, “Tell me about this choice--why is it important to you?” and “Is there another way to indicate that you have spent time living in Africa?” In the end, if Susie cannot get there herself, it’s important to note that based on definition alone, and regardless of her intentions, her answer will be perceived as misleading at best and a lie at worst. And colleges will not look favorably upon that.

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section II.A Members should:
  • Educate students and families of their ethical responsibilities in the admission process, including counseling students that it is unethical to: submit false, plagiarized, or fraudulent statements on applications or other documents.

Dilemma

You see the following post on the College Admissions Counselors’ Facebook page: “I have a student who deposited at Chosen University (CU) prior to May 1st, got their welcome packet in the mail, secured off-campus housing, etc.  In contacting the university during the second week of June about another issue, CU informed the student that he was not enrolled for the fall. Apparently, they sent out a preference letter in an email to him, and the student thought he had already completed all his preferences, so he overlooked it.  Nope!  There is not a spot for him. He was told he can reapply next year. Is this an attempt to weed out the over enrolled population? Or is this normal protocol...”  Replies to the post all put CU on blast and pile on, relaying similar stories of ways people feel CU has acted unethically. 

Discussion Topics

It appears that the original post and respondents feel the university knowingly acted unethically.
  • What if the university is unaware of any guidelines for professional practices? Does that change how you might view this situation and if you should respond?
  • How do the three pillars of communication, education, and advocacy apply to this dilemma?
  • If you do decide to act, to whom do you reach out? Reply privately to the original poster? Reply publicly in the thread? Approach the university directly?

Possible Approach

In the spirit of pillar of education, it appears that the university and the social media posters need to be made aware of the Guide.  The university needs to know that the Guide exists and that there are professional best practices.  The posters need to know that the ethical guide that they feel the university isn’t following also states NACAC members shouldn’t disparage each other. As an individual, you can reply to the thread, encouraging the original poster to contact the university directly (perhaps emailing their regional contact and copying the director), assuming the university is unaware that they haven’t followed NACAC’s best practices, and cite the section of the Guide to illustrate this point.

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section I.B Members should:
  • Maintain a culture of collaboration and collegiality, members should not disseminate inaccurate, misleading or disparaging information about other secondary schools, colleges, organizations, or individual professionals.

Dilemma

As a counselor, you always ask students to read their essays so you can assist them (and it often helps you to get to know their story). Millie Van Nilly is a student who has been receiving Cs in their regular English classes since 9th grade. But when she brings you her essay, it is beautifully written. In fact, it doesn’t sound like Millie at all. It sounds professional.

Discussion Topics

  • How do you approach this with Millie?  Do you get parents involved? What is your obligation to colleges in this case?
  • If you are a college admission officer and this essay, along with the transcript showing Cs in English, comes your way, what is your next step?

Possible Approach

Start asking questions of Millie. Some possibilities are:   How do you feel about this essay?   Which parts are you most proud of?  Where is your voice in this?  How did you come up with the idea for the topic?  You could even be direct with Millie and ask her outright if she wrote it. If she admits that she either didn’t write it or had “too much help,” you might suggest she start over. And reminding her that it is her ethical obligation to turn in work that is her own might also be a great idea!

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section I.B Members should:
  • Educate students and families of their ethical responsibilities in the admission process, including counseling students that it is unethical to: submit false, plagiarized, or fraudulent statements on applications or other documents.

Admissions Dates/Deadlines

Dilemma

After reading about Aspirant University’s early action program and receiving an invitation to apply as an early action, Florence submits an early action application for the nursing program. She submits her completed application by the December 1st early action deadline and awaits her early action decision, which is supposed to arrive no later than December 31st, according to the Early Action Program at Aspirant University.   She receives a timely decision, but while it states that she is accepted to Aspirant University, it also states the nursing program is at capacity.   She contacts the admissions office and is told that the Priority Deadline for the nursing program was November 1st, but she will be considered for a space if one becomes available.  Florence is confused, upset and surprised.

Discussion Topics

  • Why is do you think Florence is confused, upset and surprised?
  • What are some of the possible problems in this scenario that led to Florence’s confusion and missed opportunity?
  • What are some different ways you could handle this situation?
  • What are some ways in which Aspirant University can adjust their process and messaging to improve the experience for students in the future?

Possible Approach

Florence should discuss this situation with her school counselor, who should feel empowered to contact the institution and suggest that the priority deadline for the nursing program be better aligned with the deadline for the early action program.  The counselor could also suggest that the priority deadline and the limited availability be communicated as part of the early action program information (i.e. instructions, invitation, etc.) 

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section III.A (Application plans):
  • Non-restrictive application plans Colleges allow students filing applications using one of these non-restrictive plans to submit applications to multiple institutions. It is recommended that colleges allow students who are offered enrollment using one of these plans until at least May 1 to confirm their intent to enroll. Colleges should disclose whether admission to their institution or to any of their programs or majors or selection for scholarships is on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Early Action (EA): Students apply by an earlier deadline to receive a decision in advance of the college’s Regular Decision notification date.
As outlined in Section III.B (Definitions & Glossary):
  • Priority deadline: A priority deadline is an application deadline that colleges may establish for programs and majors that have limited space. The deadline may also be used for students who want to be considered for specific scholarships.

Dilemma

John has been admitted to the Honors College at Target University, an offer which is contingent upon his formal enrolling in the program and to the institution by March 15. While he is excited about this opportunity, he is also hopeful to receive offers of admission and scholarship to several other institutions, all of which have indicated he will have until May 1 to formally decide. John doesn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to attend the Honors College at Target University, but he is feeling pressured to enroll without being able to consider all of his options.

Discussion Topics

  • High School Side: How do you advocate for or help your student advocate for themself?  What are some different ways you could handle this situation?  
  • College Side: Is there any penalty to the student for missing the original deadline?  Do you grant an extension if requested? How do you work with the Honors program that put this deadline in place, so they understand the importance of May 1st?

Possible Approach

In this scenario, John should feel empowered to contact the Honors College or Admissions Office asking for an extended deadline to make his decision that falls in line with the dates that have been offered by the other institutions. This scenario is referenced extensively in the Guide as being incongruent with a student-centered admissions process. The student may request to have until May 1, referencing the National Candidate Reply Date recognized by NACAC.

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section II.A:
  • The recommendation for member institutions is to create an admissions process that is fully student-centered and free from coercion. Stated recommendations for member institutions related to this concern are as follows:
    • National Candidates Reply Date: Colleges should use the widely recognized date of May 1 as the earliest enrollment confirmation deadline. Before being asked to make an enrollment decision and to commit to an institution, students should have time to hear from each school that admitted them and receive notice of:
      • Offers of financial aid and scholarships
      • Admission to honors and other special programs
      • Availability of housing
  • Members are encouraged to work with other campus offices such as academic departments, housing and financial aid to create a consistent deadline that does not require students to make a commitment or accept an offer prior to May 1.

Dilemma

Having been accepted to a nursing program, Flo Nightingale is told the housing deposit is due March 15. Flo wants to wait to hear from another nursing program that won’t notify until April 1.  She approaches you as her counselor, wondering how to make the request for an extension of time for admissions’ consideration between the two programs.

Discussion Topics

  • School Side: How do you advocate for or help your student advocate for themself?  What would be your approach or main talking points when connecting with the undergraduate admissions’ offices at the different institutions?
  • College Side: Do you grant an extension if requested? What do you say to your housing director, program director, or president who has instituted this policy?  Is there any penalty to the student for missing the original deadline?

Possible Approach

Managed admissions programs often have a good deal of information conveyed from sources outside of the undergraduate admissions department itself, and it's not always the case that everyone across campus is aware of those communications.  Regardless of where and when that information is publicly disclosed, the admissions department at the institution could serve as an intermediary between the student and the nursing and housing departments on its campus: not every staff and faculty member on campus is likely aware of the national candidate reply date of May 1st, and regardless of the competitive nature of a program or of housing availability, all parties will likely want a student to make an informed decision in choosing their institution, rather than one made from pressure, to matriculate and retain the student from their initial point of admission.

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section I.A:
  • Colleges should make publicly available comprehensive, accurate, and current information concerning: All deadlines including admission, scholarships, financial aid, and housing.
As outlined in Section II.A:
  • National Candidates Reply Date: Colleges should use the widely recognized date of May 1 as the earliest enrollment confirmation deadline. Before being asked to make an enrollment decision and to commit to an institution, students should have time to hear from each school that admitted them and receive notice of offers of:
    • financial aid and scholarships
    • admission to honors and other special programs
    • availability of housing
  • Members are encouraged to work with other campus offices such as academic departments, housing and financial aid to create a consistent deadline that does not require students to make a commitment or accept an offer prior to May 1.

Dilemma

Taylor has been admitted to Goal University and contacts the university’s transfer admissions department about next steps after applying.  Taylor worked hard at her current institution, and does wonder how coursework will transfer in, too.  They inform Taylor that the university’s policy is that in order to produce a transfer credit evaluation and run a degree audit, the university must receive an enrollment deposit and will not produce a formal degree audit until that’s received.  It does, however, send students a link to their online transfer credit equivalency database to review potential transfer credit. Taylor’s deposit is due in two weeks.

Discussion Topics

Questions around the nature of the process could help Taylor or an advocate gain a better understanding of the institution’s practice.
  • Is the transfer credit evaluation tool an accurate means for what to expect to transfer into the institution?
  • Can the fee be waived?
  • Are there other items Taylor can do or provide (such as syllabi) to expedite the process?
  • Is there an appeal process for a course that might not transfer at first?
  • How do you coach Taylor to navigate this conversation with the transfer counselor?

Possible Approach

The transferring of course credit at many universities can be a complex process involving numerous departments, faculty and staff.  While credit transfer databases may be helpful in answering some credit-related questions, they rarely address all courses requiring review.  However, most universities should be able to confirm how many credits will likely be transferred, as well as how they apply to the curriculum at the receiving institution.  In the dilemma, the tool is really key: if it’s efficacious and derives from the transfer data set, then it could give Taylor a sense of what transfers.  If not or if vague, then ideally the college explains the nuances in more detail (which many transfer counselors are happy to do!).  The student should be empowered to ask that enrollment confirmation and/or deposit be deferred until additional information is provided by the university.

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section II.C:
  • To ensure  an equitable and transparent process, transfer candidates should not be asked to make a commitment to enroll until they are able to review all relevant information including financial aid awards and estimates of how credits earned at previous institutions will transfer and apply toward a degree at the receiving institution.

Dilemma

Coffey University accepts a student off of the waitlist. In the email informing the student of this decision, Hopeful University states that the student has 24 hours to respond to the offer or it will be revoked.

Discussion Topics

  • Is this happening before or after May 1st?  Why does that matter?
  • When will the student be given information about availability of housing and a financial aid offer?  Why is this important?
  • As a school counselor how do you advocate for or help your students advocate for themselves to be given more time?
  • What are some different ways you could handle this situation?

Possible Approach

If the student has been admitted off the waitlist post May 1, technically the college is allowed to shorten the timeline. That being said, the student and counselor should still feel empowered to call and request an extension. The student should say something like “Thank you for the offer of admission. I am so excited! Could I have an extension on the decision deadline? I need a little bit of time (give an exact amount of time if possible, such as 3 days) to discuss this opportunity with my guardians.”

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section II.A:
  • NACAC members believe that college choices should be informed, well-considered, and free from coercion. We believe that admission practices should be student-centered and should not be designed to manipulate students into applying to or enrolling at a college or university before they are ready.
As outlined in Section II.B Colleges should:
  • Not require a deposit or set a fee for remaining on the waitlist
  • Allow students who are offered admission from the waitlist after May 1 at least 48 hours before requiring a verbal or written commitment to enroll
  • Notify students of their financial aid offer and availability of housing before requiring a commitment to enroll

Early Decision

Dilemma

Nirvana and Utopia, two similar universities, often compete for the same students. Utopia has started to offer perks for students who apply early: preferred housing, free books, daily morning lattes and afternoon ice cream.

Discussion Topics

  • As an admissions officer at Nirvana: Do you feel this is appropriate? Is it ethical?  Do you escalate your college's offerings or attempt to convince Utopia to disarm?
  • On the high school side: What concerns or reactions do you have? What do you say to students and parents?

Possible Approach

Consider the context in which Nirvana became aware of Utopia’s perks.  If the information was shared with Nirvana from a concerned high school counselor, the counselor might consider sharing their concern with Utopia.  If the Nirvana learned of Utopia’s incentives from a shared applicant to both universities, an opportunity exists to remind Utopia of their commitment to protect students from coercive intrusion into their decision-making process. Remember that an education-focused approach and professional communication solve many ethics-related dilemmas. 

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section II.A:
  • NACAC members believe that college choices should be informed, well-considered, and free from coercion. We believe that admission practices should be student-centered and should not be designed to manipulate students into applying to or enrolling at a college or university before they are ready

Dilemma

Paul Privilege, an outstanding student from an affluent family, is delighted by his early decision acceptance to his highly selective dream school. Before withdrawing applications to his other schools, as his counselor suggested, he hears from an early action college that he has been offered their Presidential Scholarship - a $35,000 per year merit award. His parents want him to accept that despite their signed early decision agreement.

Discussion Topics

  • How might a college respond to Paul’s request?
  • How might Paul’s counselor advise Paul and his family?
  • What are the possible repercussions for Paul or his school?
  • What are some different ways you could handle this situation?

Possible Approach

Paul should request a meeting with his school counselor to discuss this dilemma.  Together, they should revisit the terms of the binding early decision agreement that was signed and discuss the ethical responsibilities involved in the admissions process.    Additionally, the counselor could share what negative implication such a breach of agreement might have on future students from his high school.

Related Text in the Guide 

Section I.B:
  • To provide college admission counseling in the best interest of students, members should:
    • Educate students and families of their ethical responsibilities in the admission process, including counseling students that it is unethical to: Fail to notify colleges where they have decided to decline their offers of admission.
Section III.A:
  • Students commit to a first-choice college at the time of application and, if admitted, agree to enroll and withdraw their other college applications. Colleges may offer ED I or II with different deadlines. Students may be required to accept a college’s offer of admission and submit a deposit prior to May.

Dilemma

A student has applied early decision to a U.S. university’s primary campus.  The university has subsequently offered the student a space at its campus based in Europe instead of a space at its primary campus.  The university is requiring confirmation and deposit by March 1st.

Discussion Topics

  • As a counselor, how would you advise the student? What role, if any, might the early decision agreement play in this dilemma?
  • As an admission officer, how would you advise or accommodate the student? What are some different ways you could handle the situation?

Possible Approach

Some U.S. universities maintain campuses abroad.  When an early decision agreement explicitly states that applicants can (student choice) be considered for another campus of the university, AND that if an offer is made, the student will be held to the same conditions and timelines outlined in the agreement regardless of which campus they are offered early decision admission to, then this dilemma falls within ethical guidelines. As a counselor or student, a conversation with the university may be helpful in ensuring that communication to and with students is clear and transparent can be very helpful.

Related Text in the Guide 

As outlined in Section II.D:
  • Colleges outside of the United States should:
    • Make publicly available accurate, comprehensive, and current information concerning:
    • Admission deadlines, including application and enrollment confirmation deadlines.
    • Admission criteria, including required specialized admission tests.
    • Academic courses/programs.
    • Availability and types of financial assistance.
    • Availability and types of institutional housing.
    • Ensure that all translations of admission materials accurately represent the content of the original language.