Rights and Responsibilities of College Applicants


As a college applicant, you have the right to receive information from colleges and universities about their admission, financial costs, financial aid opportunities and housing policies.

"When you're accepted into a college, and you decide to go there, you're entering into a contractual agreement," says Deloris Richardson. "So you need to know where you stand, and what's expected." Richardson is assistant director for education and training at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).

"It's kind of like a bill of rights," she says. "You have to know what you're entitled to so you don't fall prey to some predatory type of school... a fly-by-night institution that has students paying exorbitant fees. You have a right to protect yourself and know."

The U.S. government requires colleges and universities to provide the following information to prospective students, according to NACAC:

  • Costs, including tuition, books, supplies, housing and other fees
  • Requirements and procedures for withdrawing from the school, and refund policies
  • Academic programs, a list of faculty members and instructors, graduation or completion rates, transfer-out rates (for schools that prepare students for transfers to four-year colleges)
  • Types of financial aid available, criteria for determining eligibility, how and when aid is distributed
  • Names of associations that accredit, approve or license the school
  • Services and facilities for students with disabilities
  • The number and types of crimes reported on or near campus, policies and procedures for reporting campus crimes and emergencies, and the college's policy on drug offenses

Freedom from high-pressure sales is another right of prospective students.

Even if you're applying early, you have the right to complete information about the college's admission process and policies.

Most colleges make this information available on their websites, in college catalogs, or in other materials. "The information is usually in print right before [students]," says Richardson. "It's on the travel brochures. It's in the prospectus. They will also receive mailings to their homes letting them know what costs are.... And so it's really up to them to actually read it, and then go from there."

Colleges and universities also have policies and procedures for enrolled students around student conduct, discipline, discrimination, harassment, student grievances, and alcohol and drug use, which may differ from school to school. This information is typically found on the schools' websites or in college catalogs.


As a student applying to college, you have certain responsibilities too. You must research, understand and comply with the college's policies and procedures around application fees, financial aid, scholarships, housing and deposits. It's important to understand the college's on-campus policies and procedures, such as student conduct, because you'll be expected to observe those policies once you're a student at the school.

When applying to a college, it's your responsibility to complete all required material and submit your application on or before the deadline. Be sure to fill out your applications yourself. When you receive an offer, you must inform each college or university whether you're accepting or rejecting the offer -- no later than May 1. (Early decision programs are an exception to this deadline.)

Information about what you need to do as a college applicant is typically available on college websites, in e-mails and snail mail sent to applicants, and on the application form itself.

"I would like to think we do a pretty good job of telling [students] you have to do this, this, this and this, and we'll take it from there," says Chris Portney. She works in the admissions department at the University of Arizona. "The best thing is to check e-mails -- which [students] often don't -- and follow through."

College applicants' rights and responsibilities are made available to protect colleges as well, says Portney. "We're not doing our job if we're holding something back," she says. "And miscommunication can lead to a lot of problems for both sides."

Overall, Portney finds that student applicants are generally aware of their rights and responsibilities. "From an admissions standpoint ... this millennial generation is very different from previous ones," she says.

"They are much more informed. Everything they click, click, click on the web, and they can find it if they are motivated, and the majority of them are. And Mom and Dad are much more involved.... They're better informed than they used to be, and the follow through is better."

If you feel your rights have been denied, contact the college or university for more information. Speak to your high school guidance counselor or a college advisor. Or contact NACAC for assistance.

Students may contact the college if they're denied acceptance, says Marie Alford, director of admissions at California State University, Long Beach. "Many times we have students who are fairly good students, who we can't admit simply because we get so many more applicants than we can accommodate," she says.

"And I will just help them understand that while they did a good job, and they certainly have academic potential, at our campus we can only admit so many students, and unfortunately that cutoff just has to be drawn somewhere."

In most cases, issues are resolved after speaking with an admissions officer, says Alford. However, in some cases, students appeal their admission decision if they believe the college did not have their most recent test scores or GPA. "When we get those, we just verify our records and make sure we do have the correct information," says Alford. "If we've made an error, we certainly will reverse it."

Alford advises students to start preparing for college during their junior year of high school. "[Students should] identify where they want to go to school," she says. "And they have to consider more than one -- preferably three or four. And then get on the website, look at the requirements for each one of those schools ... and talk to the counselor.

"Call the universities and ask questions," she adds. "Admissions offices and outreach offices are always there to answer students' questions."