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College Decision Day: What You Need to Know

By Zach Skillings

Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: March 21st, 2024
College Decision Day: What You Need to Know

College Decision Day, which occurs annually on May 1, is the deadline for high schoolers to commit to the college they’d like to attend. By this date, students must submit a nonrefundable deposit to their college of choice. Decision Day carries the most significance for students who have been accepted to multiple schools and are weighing their options. If you’re in this position, congratulations! Receiving multiple acceptance letters is quite the accomplishment, and although it can be difficult to settle on a single school, remember that it’s a good problem to have. Keep reading to learn more about Decision Day and what you can do to make the right choice. 

Also see: What to do if you’re rejected from every school you apply to

Is decision day the same for all colleges? 

The May 1 decision deadline applies to most colleges, but not all of them. For instance, community colleges and less competitive four-year institutions don’t always have a firm deadline for accepting enrollment decisions. Even for the colleges that abide by the May 1 deadline, keep in mind that you don’t have to wait until this date to submit your deposit. It’s simply the latest date that you can do so. In fact, it’s a good idea to make your decision well in advance and avoid running the risk of not getting enrolled. 

Making a decision…

You’ve applied to college, been accepted, and now it’s time to make a decision. Easier said than done, right? Finding a school to spend the next four years can be a difficult process, especially when there’s multiple factors at play. From financial aid packages to career outcomes to geographic location, there’s a lot of things to consider. Although it can be stressful, just remember to take your time and weigh all your options. Here’s what you should do if you’re trying to decide between multiple colleges: 

Related: How to choose a college

1. Review your financial aid packages

Your first step should be to compare your various financial aid packages and see which school is offering you the best deal. Remember that the ultimate goal is to receive the best education for the lowest possible price. As such, make sure you’re crystal clear on the details of your financial aid packages. If you have questions, reach out to your school’s financial aid office to clear up any confusion. You can also review our guide on how to read a financial aid award letter.

2. Take campus visits

When it comes to choosing a college, campus tours are your best friend. By visiting the campus in-person, you can learn a lot about what you like and don’t like about the school. Take this opportunity to visit academic departments you’re interested in, speak with current students and faculty, and find the answers to any lingering questions you may have. For some pointers on how to make the most of your campus visit, check out our guide on planning a college tour.

Also see: Top questions to ask on a college visit

3. Consult the people you trust

A lot of times, making an important decision is easier when you talk it through with someone else. As you’re trying to make up your mind, don’t hesitate to turn to your guidance counselors, parents, or teachers for support. They may be able to provide some valuable insight and help you make sense of the best path forward. Just remember that this is ultimately your decision and no one else’s. 

4. Request an extension (if needed) 

If you truly can’t make up your mind, you can file an extension request. This is a good option for students who want more time to decide, along with those who are holding out for an acceptance letter from colleges they’ve been waitlisted by. There’s no guarantee your extension request will be accepted, but it’s worth a shot. 

Submitting your enrollment deposit 

Once you’ve decided, it’s time to submit your enrollment deposit. This is a non-refundable payment made to guarantee your spot in the incoming freshman class. The deposit fee varies between different colleges, and can range from $100 to $1,000. The cost of your deposit may be covered by your financial aid award. If this isn’t the case (and you’re unable to cover the cost yourself) you can submit a deposit waiver request to your college admissions office. 

Keep in mind that you should only commit to one school and avoid “double depositing.” Although it’s a tempting way to delay your decision until the fall, it’s considered unethical because it fills a spot that could have gone to another student. Not to mention, you’ll forfeit the deposit at the school you don’t end up attending. Some schools even reserve the right to rescind an offer of admission if they find out a student put down a second deposit at another college. 

Additional resources

Once you’ve officially enrolled in college, it’s time to get excited! Check out the following resources to prepare for your first year of college: 

Frequently asked questions about College Decision Day

What happens if you miss letting a college know by Decision Day

Most colleges do expect a decision no later than the official decision day. If you did not respond, immediately contact the school in question and explain your situation. 

What should I do if I can't decide which college I want to attend before Decision Day?

  That depends on a number of factors. Some students truly cannot decide between two or more appealing schools. In that case, they need to talk to trusted family, friends, and school advisors for guidance. Sometimes, however, indecisiveness when choosing a school is indicative of something else. Perhaps the student applied to schools that would require them to move far from home and they don’t want to. Maybe they feel as though they need more time to grow before enrolling at a four-year school. These are important matters that students need to discuss before committing to a college.

Will colleges hold my place if I decide on a gap year?

  Most schools are accepting of students taking a gap year.  The school might ask students to explain in more depth what their plans are during the gap year.

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