How to Decline College Acceptance

Learn how to decline admission to a college when they've sent you an acceptance offer.

How to Decline College Acceptance
Anik Mandal

When you’re a high school student and you find out you've received multiple college acceptance offers, the feeling can be ecstatic. But once you come to your senses, you’ll need to give out the answer to a very important question: Which college will I attend, and which ones will I decline admission?

Being forced to reduce your options when it comes to which college to attend can be a tough task. But, if you’ve received multiple acceptance offers from colleges, then you will be forced to complete this task. And this task involves knowing how to decline admission to a college or colleges. Once you have figured out which school to accept and attend, it’s time to get down to declining admissions from other colleges you’re choosing not to attend.

Read on for an easy guide to how to decline college acceptance.

Table of Contents

Confirm Which College Admission You Are Accepting

Before you talk to any colleges that accepted you but don’t plan on attending, make sure that you first confirm that you will be attending the college or university you did choose to accept. Though this sounds obvious, it’s important to do because you’ll want to know that you’ll be able to attend the college and have no issues emerge before you decline other admissions offers.

The way you confirm with your college of choice ultimately depends on the  specific college you’re accepting. Typically, though, the way to inform the college that you’ll be accepting their offer is spelled out in the acceptance letter. Once you’ve confirmed with the college, make sure that you submit your deposit before the deadline. After that, the process is essentially over. However, do take note that you don’t want to let your grades slip too much due to “senioritis" because that could lead to a retraction of your college acceptance offer. So, keep up with attending high school classes and maintain your grades.

How to Decline Admission to a College

Now, to the point of the article: How to decline admission to a college? Once you’ve figured out which schools you will not be attending, there are several steps you’ll need to take in order to decline your college admission appropriately.

Tell the college as soon as you choose not to attend it

This might sound straightforward, but there’s more than one reason for this. Firstly, it’s partially common courtesy to let the colleges know as soon as possible that you will be declining their admission offer. Secondly, By letting the colleges know you won’t be accepting their admissions offers, you’ll also enable other potential students, who may be on the waiting list, get their chance to get in. The earlier you formally decline an admissions offer, the sooner the admissions office can make adjustments for another applicant who may be waiting to hear whether or not they’ve been accepted.

Review the school’s guidelines for rejecting an admission offer

Depending on the school, colleges might have specific instructions for how to decline college acceptance. Some methods of rejecting an admission offer include sending an email to an admissions representative, completing a form online, or going to a specific online portal on the college website. To find out how to decline admission to a college, visit the college’s website to see if they provide the instructions. Another place to check is in your acceptance letters, which may outline what you need to do if you wish to decline the offer.

If there are no specific instructions for how to decline college acceptance, then simply put together an email to send to the admissions department. It’s a good idea to create a standardized template for this purpose, especially if you’ve received multiple college admissions offers. All your email can be is:

  • Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms./(whatever prefix is appropriate) __________,

  • Thank you for your consideration and the acceptance offer to attend your college. I have carefully weighed my options, and although I am honored to be accepted to your school, I will have to decline the offer. I truly appreciate your assistance with the entire process.

  • Thank you again/Sincerely,

  • Your Signature

Do I Have to Decline Admission to Colleges?

Technically, you don’t have to decline admission to a college. There is no official or formal process across the board for declining admission to college and, therefore, no regulations forcing you to let a college know you’re declining their offer. Instead, it’s far more a matter of courtesy. And, as stated before, by alerting the college that you’re declining their acceptance offer, the sooner that college can offer your spot to a student on the waitlist. 

How to Decline Admission to a College After Accepting

You may have gotten yourself into a situation in which you accepted one college offer, but after some consideration, now want to accept another. The good news is, accepting an offer of admission is typically not binding, so you can go back on your acceptance. That said, some colleges offer early-decision admissions, which usually do include formal contracts. However, the more common regular-decision and early-action applications generally do not require students to commit without providing any kind of flexibility on the decision.

One word of caution: You can choose to back out of attending a college without penalty, but this applies only if you do so before you submit a deposit. If you choose to opt out of a college admission offer after you’ve submitted your deposit, the situation can get sticky since deposits are typically non-refundable. If you find yourself in such a situation, you should discuss any options you might have directly with the school.

What Happens if You Don’t Decline a College That Admits You?

If, for some reason, you never get around to declining admission to a college, don’t fret too much. In most cases, colleges and universities acceptance offers have a type of expiration date attached to them. If you do not formally confirm you’ll be attending the school by submitting a deposit, then your acceptance will be canceled for the academic year in which you applied. Some schools will explicitly give you an expiration date for their acceptance offer, not just an implicit one like the deadline for the deposit. Sorry, you can't really attend two colleges at once (excluding dual enrollment programs and studying abroad, of course).

The Bottom Line on How to Decline College Acceptance

Understanding how to decline admission to a college you applied to is great knowledge to possess as a high school student. Many students who get multiple college admissions offers agonize over how to decline a college acceptance, as if the college’s personal feelings will be irrevocably hurt. Don’t stress out over declining admission to a college. Admission boards are well-versed in receiving declines of their acceptance offers, so it’s not like they will be blindsided by your declining admission to a college. Once you’ve declined all the admission offers you’ve received from colleges, now you can focus on getting excited for the school you did accept.

Andrew DePietro

Author: Andrew DePietro

Senior Researcher, and Content Strategist

Andrew DePietro is a finance writer covering topics such as entrepreneurship, investing, real estate and college for BrokeScholar, Forbes, CreditKarma, and more.