NACAC’s Guide to Ethical Practice in College Admission

NACAC’s Guide to Ethical Practice in College Admission reflects the association’s long-standing commitment to principled conduct among professionals who support students in the college transition process from secondary school to postsecondary education and in the transfer process between postsecondary institutions.

December 2023: Language regarding the recommended practice that students not receiving a sufficient financial aid award be released from an Early Decision commitment was not included in the Guide to Ethical Practice in College Admission and has now been reinserted in Article III: Section A.2.a

September 2023: A reformatted and updated Guide to Ethical Practice in College Admission is available! See the summary of changes.

NACAC’s Guide to Ethical Practice in College Admission

This guide is also available as a direct download PDF.

Additional Resources

Do you have a question about NACAC’s recommended ethical practices or a suggested revision to the Guide to Ethical Practice in College Admission? Please submit via this form and a member of the national AP committee will follow up with you.

Approved by the 2020 Assembly

Due to the cancelation of the 2020 Assembly, prior to the 2020 Virtual Conference the NACAC Assembly Delegates voted via Written Consent to approve the replacement of the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP) with the best practices document, Guide to Ethical Practice in College Admission. This change went into effect immediately.

Here is a review of the important events that led us to where we are today.

NACAC underwent an investigation by the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ), which led to a moratorium on the enforcement of the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP), the removal of three provisions of the code, the assessment of a staggering amount of legal fees, and, finally, the filing by DOJ of a complaint and proposed consent decree.

In that period, most institutions and individual members continued to abide by basic principles of the CEPP, although some institutions pursued more aggressive recruitment strategies. Vendors began offering advice and new services addressing the changes. Our members, as well as students and families, faced uncertainties in the college admission process that likely would have continued.

Facing this new normal, the Board of Directors approved a motion at its March 2020 meeting to recast the CEPP from a mandatory code to a statement of best practices.

The decision to adopt the best practices option was not easy, but the board believed that it was the best course for NACAC. Maintaining the CEPP as a mandatory document could have potentially opened the association to continued investigation and penalties by the Justice Department if NACAC were found in violation of the court-ordered consent decree. Individual institutions also could have challenged the CEPP in court if they believed that the mandatory provisions inhibited their ability to recruit students. Companies and other organizations that asserted that the code could also have restricted their ability to offer a product or service — or even students who felt that the CEPP hurt their chances to attend the college of their choice — could have challenged NACAC in court.

Before reaching its decision, board members and staff consulted extensively with legal counsel on the risks, met informally with committees for their input, and considered member feedback.

The board concluded that revising the CEPP as a best practices document would reduce the risk of legal actions that could have seriously affected NACAC’s budget reserves and its ability to operate. Additionally, the board believed that a new best practices document focusing on NACAC’s longstanding core values could support a vigorous educational effort to guide the profession and strengthen NACAC’s role as the trusted source in college admission.

In recasting the CEPP as a best practices document, the board sought to recognize our mission to serve students, families, and the profession and to honor our fiduciary responsibility. The best practices approach was endorsed by the Affiliate Presidents Council and was recommended by the Admission Practices (AP) Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee on Leadership in College Admission.

At its March 2020 meeting, the board also authorized the AP Committee to begin drafting the best practices version of the CEPP. In response, the committee drafted the new Guide to Ethical Practice in College Admission, which was delivered to the board for their approval at their June 2020 meeting.

This draft was then reviewed and commented on by the Affiliate Presidents Council, other association leaders, and the entire membership before ultimately being presented to the assembly delegates for their approval.

Thanks to everyone involved for helping the association to navigate this important decision.