Instant Decision Day: College Admissions Without The Wait

One of the most excruciating aspects of the college admissions process is the long wait. Applications submitted in November or December can take four to five months to yield a reply. Parents and students, unclear about the future, can find this period very stressful. But for some college applicants there is an easier alternative. Instant Decision Day, a process that allows high school seniors or rising seniors, to apply, interview and receive an admissions decision all in a single day is an alternative to the long wait.

What is Instant Decision Day?

Just like it sounds, Instant Decision Day (or, as some call it ID Day) is a chance for high school students to reduce the entire admissions process (including, in some cases, financial or merit aid) to one day. If accepted, students then have until National Decision Day, May 1, of their senior year, to accept or refuse the admissions offer.

For colleges it is a chance to meet the students, explains Kerri Darcy, Assistant Director of Admissions at St John’s University in New York, but the same is true for the students. When she conducts ID Days at high schools students get to ask lots of questions about the school in a personal way that a traditional applications process does not allow.

Instant Decision Day

How does it work?

Like everything else in college admissions, the answer is not that simple!  Some colleges state very clearly on their websites the minimum criteria for their ID Day program (see Stockton University). Ahead of the ID Day, many colleges require that students send them an application with basic biographical information, or in some cases the Common App,  as well as grades and standardized test scores. If the student is eligible for ID Day, the college then notifies the teen and tells them when and where their ID Day will be conducted, as well as any additional information they will need to bring.   

[More on why college admissions is harder than you might have expected here.]

In some cases, Instant Decision Days take place on college campuses. Dates are scheduled over the summer for rising seniors meaning when students return to school they may already be admitted to college. Other Instant Decision Days are in the fall.  

Some Instant Decision Days are all day affairs. For example, at Ramapo College in New Jersey, students reserve a place for the ID Day. They and their families spend the day on campus meeting with faculty, eating in the cafeteria and seeing the campus. At the end of the day, students are informed of their admissions decision and if there is an offer of a freshman place, financial aid offers are made at the same time.

Colleges also hold ID Days at high schools and there may even be a number of different colleges conducting admissions on the same day.  Ahead of the college’s arrival, high school counselors let their students know of level of grades and scores required to participate in the one-day application process. They also tell students how early their applications must be submitted by (usually 1-2 weeks in advance of the ID Day) which is motivation for seniors to get their common application in early. Some colleges ask that students bring a resume with them on the day of the interview.  These lucky seniors go to school in the morning, interview for a place at the college of their choice and may have an offer of acceptance before they go home that afternoon.

For some colleges, students have to take an extra step and wait to hear about financial aid or housing, yet number of schools make their offers of merit aid on the spot. St. John’s conducts Instant Decision Days at their open houses in the fall as well as at local high schools. Darcy notes that when she and her colleagues goes to high schools it is largely with the intention of admitting kids. Everyone meeting with the admissions staff has been prescreened by their high school counselors and found to be admissible.  She describes these as very happy days as for many students this is their first college admission and it sometimes comes with a generous offer of merit aid.

[More on the ten college dorm essentials here.]

While many schools offer Instant Decision Days for incoming freshmen, even more colleges seem to use the process for transfer admissions. For a student transferring from a two-year college, or even a four-year college, who has already been through an admissions process before, streamlining the process seems like a real advantage.

How do students find out about an Instant Decision Day?

This is a tougher questions. If a student’s high school hosts Instant Decision Days at the school, the answer is simple. One mother whose son has applied for an Instant Decision Day said she only found out about the option when she, on a college campus visit, asked an admissions officer when applications were due. If she hadn’t asked the question her son would not have known about the program.

The best answer to finding Instant Decision Days, which still requires some digging, is to look on the websites of colleges in which the student is interested. But look early!  Some schools offer the ID options as early as July before senior year.

Alison Henry,  Associate Dean of Enrollment Management Stockton University, explains, “We list the Instant Decision Days (IDDs) on our website on the same page as our tours and Open Houses.  We email students who are prospects that seem to meet our requirements.  We notify high school guidance counselors so if they have students that they know are interested in us, they tell them about the IDDs.”

What are the advantages to students of Instant Decision Day?

  1. High school students have an answer quickly without the long wait and the uncertainty and even anxiety that causes.
  2. High school counselors note that for many students, the early offer of admission is a big confidence booster as the student has an offer firmly in hand early senior year.
  3. Application fees are sometimes waived. The early process encourages students not to procrastinate. 
  4. Students have the unusual opportunity to ask admission officers questions face to face and get answers relevant to their particular situation (far better than a website’s FAQs.).
  5. Admissions officers get to learn more about a student and may have a better idea if the college is a good fit.
  6. Students can make a single (money saving) visit to campus finding out what they need to know, including the status of their admissions.
  7. If students have a chance to speak with admissions officers they can make their case for admission in a more compelling way than a 500 word essay will allow.
  8. Sometimes students are not instantly admitted because they do not meet the criteria but are told by admissions officers specific milestones they need to reach senior year to gain admission.
  9. With an offer of admission in hand students have the luxury of applying to a few “reach schools.”
  10. Many Instant Decision Days are conducted in the summer or early fall and an admitted student had a far less stressful senior year.


12 Proven Ways to Help Your Teen through Junior Year 

College Tour: Why Parents Should Be Seen and Not Heard 

Best High School Graduation Gifts: 2016

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

Read more posts by Grown and Flown

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.