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Rights & Responsibilities of College Applicants

College is a big step in every student’s life. It may feel like one of the first steps towards adulthood as you begin to make concrete choices about the direction of your future: What do you want to do? Where do you want to live? Who do you want to be? As you head down this path, it’s important to be aware of your rights and responsibilities as a college applicant, so you can be sure you’re kicking things off on the right foot.

“Students have the right to information, but they also have the responsibility to seek out that information,” says Lindsey Ringenbach. She is a college counselor at Research Triangle High School in North Carolina.

“Research, attention to deadlines, and organization can make the college application process less overwhelming. Students should seek help when they don’t understand particular policies, or if they simply need guidance as they navigate their way through the process.”
So then, what are the rights of a prospective student?


For the most part, it begins with the right to information.

“Students have the right to know just about everything about the institution,” says Jason Trainer, director of admissions at the University of North Dakota.

“Certainly information such as cost, financial aid/scholarships, acceptance rates, admissions criteria, retention and graduation rates, placement statistics, and average student debt are common pieces of information students should be looking at when making their college decision.”

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the government requires all colleges and universities to provide college applicants with the following details:

  • Costs, including tuition, books, supplies, housing and other fees
  • Requirements and procedures for withdrawing, and refund policies
  • Academic programs, a list of faculty and transfer of credit policies
  • Types of financial aid available, eligibility requirements and distribution detail
  • Retention, graduate and transfer-out rates
  • Placement and types of employment for previous graduates
  • Names of associations that accredit, approve or license the school
  • Services and facilities for students with disabilities
  • Student activities and career placement services

The number and types of crimes reported on or near campus, procedures for reporting crimes and emergencies, and policies on drug offences, assault prevention, missing students and emergency responses.

In terms of financial aid and scholarships, Louis Hirsh, chair of the Admissions Practices Committee for NACAC, says, “So long as you meet the published deadlines for submitting materials, you have a right to receive a financial aid package before you are required to submit an enrolment deposit.” He also adds that students have the right to wait until May 1st to accept or decline a college’s offer of admission.

Colleges are not allowed to imply that you might lose an awarded scholarship if you do not confirm sooner.

Finally, college applicants have a right to privacy. “Secondary schools and colleges must maintain the confidentiality of your transcripts, test scores and any other personal information,” says Hirsh. Students have the right to report any ethical misconduct to NACAC, who will investigate and take action if a school is found to be in violation of their Statement of Principles of Good Practice.

Now you know your rights as a college applicant. So, what’s your end of the deal?


First and foremost, it’s a student’s responsibility to be honest. This begins with honest intentions. In other words, do not apply to schools that you have no interest in attending, just to see how many acceptance letters you can get. That isn’t fair to the college or more serious applicants.

When it comes to completing your admission and financial aid applications, you must also be truthful. “Students must provide honest and complete answers to all application questions,” says Ringenbach. “[They] must be ready to discuss education records, extracurricular activities, family information, and academic achievements. College applications also ask questions about disciplinary history.” Trainer adds, “Students should be prepared to provide secondary/high school transcripts, ACT/SAT exam scores, and possibly written responses to additional admission requirements.”

College essays must be your own work and not been plagiarized from other sources. Hirsh emphasizes, “Please understand, there can be severe consequences if you falsify information on your college application. Even after you enroll, you can be expelled if this is ever discovered.”

To prepare, Trainer advises that students “start the process early, plan to take standardized tests multiple times and maintain a strong GPA while taking rigorous courses.”

“Letting your grades drop or getting yourself into serious disciplinary trouble can result in a college rescinding their offer of admission, even if you have already deposited,” says Hirsh.

Finally, when those acceptance letters start rolling in, students must not commit to enrolling in more than one college at a time. “This is known as ‘double depositing,’ and it is unethical,” says Hirsh. “Once you have accepted a college’s offer of admission, withdraw your applications to your other college choices. If you are taken off of a waitlist, you may accept the offer, but you should immediately notify the college to which you originally submitted a deposit.”

Hirsh shares a final word of advice, “Be considerate of your classmates. Don’t belittle and badmouth their college choices. Respect their decisions, just as you would want them to respect yours.”

Not just a good lesson for college applicants, but good advice for life.

The Deets


What’s this? An article for Choices 360 education and career planning software

Audience: Middle & High school students

Client: Xap Corporation

Fact: As a former college applicant, I had never really considered my rights and responsibilities. But a little research and a few interviews later, now I know. And if you’re reading this, so do you.