Some Ethical Issues in College Admissions

As adults, every now and then, we find ourselves presented with situations that require us to consider the ethical implications of our actions.  Teenagers, looking to us to help them define right and wrong, take cues from the choices we make.

The college admission process is fraught with examples of ethical issues, as well as things some people might consider “gray areas.”  Some people are troubled by the fact that some highly selective colleges consider students’ legacy status, or that recruited athletes sometimes get special consideration.  Others are frustrated that “holistic” admissions sometimes results in students with lower grades and test scores being admitted over students with higher grades and test scores.  How can this be right?

These issues, and others, may lead you to wonder if there are any ethical guidelines in the college admission process.  In fact, there are!  Nearly all 2,200 of the four-year colleges in the US are members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), which requires its members to uphold a code of ethics.  High schools, school counselors and independent counselors can also be NACAC members.  All of Magellan’s counselors are NACAC members, and we also uphold these standards.

In the video to the right, I respond to two very important ethical issues that may pop up during this journey:

  • Do I HAVE to withdraw my applications from other colleges if I’ve been admitted somewhere Early Decision (can’t I just want “just to see” where else I get in?)
  • Can I deposit at more than one college on May 1?  What if I’m not quite ready to decide by then?

Here are a few examples of some of other ethical issues clients ask us:

  • When I report how many hours per week I do/did this activity, will anyone check to see if that number is accurate?  [Answer: NO, but you should be honest about how much time you realistically spent on each activity.]
  • If I know I won’t be on the (insert spring sport here) team my senior year, can I still say I have done the sport for four years? [Answer: NO, if you know you won’t participate in a sport your senior year, you should report how many years you actually did participate.]
  • As a parent, I want to ensure that my child’s essays are as good as they can possibly be, so I rewrote parts of his/her essay to ensure that the grammar was correct and the vocabulary sounded impressive. [We know this is a statement, not a question, but it’s definitely an ethical issue, and it’s something you should not doMore rules about essays here.]
college admissions ethical issues
This is the final submission page for every application you submit through the Common App. Note the fine print: submitting two deposits could result in your admission being rescinded!

After watching the video above, we hope you understand how important it is to withdraw all other college applications if you’ve been admitted somewhere Early Decision.  This is a binding contract, and you agreed to withdraw your applications if admitted.  With most schools, it’s as easy as logging into your portal and telling them you want to withdraw.  You may have to send an e-mail to the admissions office.  If you need to withdraw applications from UC campuses, the instructions are here [p.s. CONGRATULATIONS!  You’ve been admitted to your top choice college!]

The answer to the ‘how many colleges can I deposit at’ ethical issue is simple:  you checked a box and said you would only submit ONE enrollment deposit.  That’s it!  In most instances, you have at least the entire month of April to visit and make your decision.  May 1 is everyone’s deadline, and everyone gets to choose one, just one, college.

Don’t forget to check out our Facebook page for more interesting tidbits on the college admission process.  You can also find past issues of our original-content newsletter here.  If you’d like to join our newsletter list, please let us know!  We’re here to help and inform, and if you feel like you need an extra hand as you research and apply to colleges, we can help with that too.

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