Changing the Game

Next year’s college applicants could face a transformed admissions process


Photo: Pixabay

New opportunities for college to compete could change how future applicants approach the college admission process.

As the result of a recent Department of Justice investigation, colleges across the United States have gained new opportunities to compete for students. For decades, the path of the college admissions process has remained largely unchanged, but future applicants may find themselves in uncharted territory. 

In November 2017, the U.S. DOJ began investigating the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices enforced by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, an organization of professionals involved in the college admissions process, mainly college counselors and admissions officers. At UPrep, both Director of College Counseling and Student Services Kelly Herrington and Associate Director of College Counseling Britten Nelson are members of NACAC. 

Through their investigation, the DOJ found that NACAC’s CEPP violated antitrust laws, submitting a formal complaint on Dec. 12, 2019. Previously, the CEPP had prohibited admissions officers from poaching students who had committed to a different college or offering incentives for students to apply through early decision programs. The DOJ found that these rules in particular limited competition between educational institutions. 

In anticipation of possible litigation and the associated costs, NACAC revised their code of ethics in September 2019, despite believing that the code of ethics provisions in question best served the interests of students transitioning to college.” Prompted by the DOJ, these rule changes, which include removing restrictions around poaching committed students and early decision incentives, effectively ended the antitrust dispute.

Nelson felt surprised and upset that NACAC had to change its code of ethics. The alterations, she worries, will only blur the path of students entering the college admissions process and cause them unnecessary confusion and distress. 

“This was not something I ever expected because I feel like the code of ethics is good. It’s putting students first. It’s making the student experience the most important experience and it’s protecting the students,” Nelson said. “It just feels so crushing and depressing to me.”

Though the CEPP changes went into effect starting this school year, Nelson didn’t see many schools trying out practices that formerly would have been prohibited. A few colleges, however, decided to test the waters, including High Point University, in North Carolina. High Point offered applicants an array of incentives to apply early decision, including priority housing decisions, guaranteed parking spaces, and an option to move in early. As Nelson described it, the NACAC community looked down upon High Point University’s decision.

“Everyone was like, ‘Oh, it’s so gross. I can’t believe they’re doing that.’ It just feels so wrong to offer that kind of incentive,” Nelson said. 

While most members of NACAC chose to honor the past rules established by the CEPP, Nelson suspects that members will take advantage of the changes to the code in the future.

“I can see some of these ethical codes slipping away as [colleges] are businesses, and they need to enroll a certain number of kids so that they can make the money they need to pay their faculty and their bills,” Nelson said. “It might not be an issue this year, but I think in years to come, we will see it becoming a problem, for sure.”


Note: High Point University has not responded to the Puma Press’ request for comment at this article’s time of publication.