The bumper sticker slogan, “Freedom is not free,” applies to college admissions just as it does to democracy.

Students have the freedom to apply to college wherever they want, and colleges are free to accept their application, or not.

And just as in democracy, freedom in the college admissions process comes with both rights and responsibilities, for the school and for the applicant.

According to the Statement of Principles of Good Practice from the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the following right is granted to your son or daughter, before he or she applies to a college:

  • Factual and comprehensive information about the school’s admission, cost, aid and housing policies.

When your child is offered admission, he or she also has the right, until May 1, to respond to an offer of admission or financial aid. While rare, some schools may request a commitment before May 1. Unless your child has applied early decision or early action, you should know that schools requesting an early commitment also have a responsibility; they must clearly offer your child the opportunity to request (in writing) an extension until May 1. And, not only must schools grant your child this extension, they may not jeopardize his or her status for admission and/or financial aid because of the request.

If your son or daughter is placed on a school’s wait list, then additional responsibilities kick in for the institution. For instance, the letter that notifies your child of the wait-list placement should provide a history that describes the number of students on the wait list, the number offered admission, and the availability of financial aid and housing. Also, colleges and universities may require neither a deposit nor a written commitment as a condition of remaining on a wait list. And, while a wait of any sort may seem endless, there is a hard deadline; colleges are expected to notify you of the resolution of your wait-list status by August 1 at the latest.

The same NACAC Statement of Principles also speaks to the responsibilities that your child should bear as he or she researches schools, makes applications and, assuming multiple acceptances, chooses among college options.

Most of these responsibilities can be summed up in three words: use common sense.

But as your son or daughter completes his or her application, and submits it on or before the published deadline, please suggest a review of this prominent NACAC warning: “You should be the sole author of your application.”

Yes, that’s common sense too, but a declaration worth repeating.