May 1 is the official deadline for most college applicants’ matriculation decisions, but with admissions decisions for different schools arriving in students’ mailboxes at various times throughout the year, the rest of the process has become considerably less clear.

This weekend, members of the National Association for College Admission Counseling met for the organization’s annual conference in Austin, Texas, to debate and vote on the issue of college deadlines, among other topics. This year’s focus included the problem of “admissions creep” — the increasingly early timeline of college admissions — and the discrepancies in financial aid packages between early and regular decision applicants.

NACAC is a member-driven organization of 10,000 high school and college counselors and admissions professionals that aims to limit the ever-growing complexities of the admissions process. The organization’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice outlines guidelines for its members to ensure that the admissions process stays fair and as stress-free as possible for students.

At the 2007 conference, the Assembly voted to rescind the 2006 NACAC decision establishing Sept. 15 as the earliest date for colleges to inform applicants of acceptance or denial.

NACAC members said they are not surprised that the issue came up again at this year’s conference. Melissa Clinedinst, NACAC’s assistant director for research, said the diversity of interests represented in the organization necessitates constant compromise and policy adjustment.

“I knew that college admissions creep was one of the issues the Assembly was going to address, because last year, we voted on the Sept. 15 date,” Clinedinst said. “Over the last year and the weeks leading up to the conference, there was some debate as to whether that was appropriate for all of our membership — we serve high school counselors and college admissions counselors large and small, public and private.”

Yale currently notifies single-choice early action applicants by mid-December.

Counselors disagreed on whether the Assembly acted wisely in rescinding last year’s decision.

Karen Lantz, college advisor at La Serna High School in Whittier, Calif., said she supports the verdict against last year’s decision provided that other policies stay in place.

“I don’t foresee any problems with it as long as [admissions decisions] are revocable based on successful completion of the senior year,” she said.

But Melanie Coffman, NACAC Illinois delegate and college counselor at Barrington High School in Barrington, Ill., said she thinks the move made by the 2007 Assembly to rescind the motion represented a premature action.

“We just enacted this legislation last year, and it didn’t pass by a narrow margin — it was pretty universally approved,” Coffman said. “We haven’t seen it go into practice, and we don’t know what changes may occur from it.”

Coffman said early notification enables students who might not otherwise consider attending college to plan ahead and rethink their career path around a college education. But many college counselors predicted that without preemptive action, the pressures of applying to college will “creep” earlier and earlier into the high school experience. Admissions creep is a commonly observed trend characterized by students submitting college applications closer to the end of junior year of high school.

Coffman said she thinks earlier admissions cycles will actually harm the quality of applications because most public high schools are not equipped with the personnel resources to provide guidance and process applications and transcripts over the summer.

“What are you going to do when a kid comes in July to apply to a school that requires a counselor’s signature and transcript? Despite this, many colleges are trying to get students into the process earlier and earlier,” she said.

Christopher Saporito, counselor at Gabrielino High School in San Gabriel, Calif., said he supports universal admissions due dates, such as those followed by California public universities.

“One of the things that is a bonus here in California for our public university system is that the deadlines are all uniform,” Saporito said. “I think that where it falls apart is with the private schools, because so many of them have their own deadline. From a counseling standpoint, the times we set for college advisement have to get bigger and bigger in order to meet the needs of all the students.”

The second major issue debated at this year’s national conference involved financial aid package discrepancies between early and regular decision applicants. Although this problem has not been well-documented with objective statistics, outgoing NACAC President Mary Lee Hoganson said that it is still a troubling phenomenon.

“Some colleges have openly said so, and others have been vague about it, that they have offered better financial aid packages under regular decision because the student does not make a commitment to attend,” Hoganson said. “The students who applied early decision might not get quite as attractive financial aid.”

The NACAC Assembly is composed of a Board of Directors and delegates elected by member votes in designated regions and by the Board of Directors.