Can Colleges See What Other Schools You Apply To?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Young man using a laptop in his desk while in class.

Can Colleges See What Other Schools You Apply To?

Can colleges see to which other schools you have applied? In most cases, colleges are unable to learn about the other schools to which you have applied. Furthermore, it’s strongly discouraged for colleges to inquire about applicants’ choices of other institutions.

According to the Code of Ethics and Professional Practices of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), it is unethical to ask “candidates… to divulge or rank order their college preferences on applications or other documents.” This recommendation is outlined in the NACAC’s document.

That being said, there will always be exceptions. Therefore, you need to be very careful not to inadvertently reveal your preferences, as this could jeopardize your chances of acceptance. This is because universities place a high value on their yield, which is the percentage of accepted students who ultimately enroll. A college with a higher yield is often perceived as more “desirable” to prospective students.

Three students talking in a bench while holding their notes.

Consequently, some institutions might not accept otherwise qualified students or might place them on a waitlist if they believe the student is unlikely to enroll. This practice is sometimes referred to as ‘yield protection’ or ‘Tufts Syndrome’, where schools aim to protect their enrollment rates.

When Will Colleges Be Able to See If You’ve Applied to Other Schools?

One way colleges might see which other schools you’ve applied to is through your transcript or in the recommendation letters you receive. Although it’s uncommon, the person writing your letter of recommendation could reference the early decision college you’re applying to and then reuse the letter for other colleges on your list.

Students lounging in the school grounds.

Most instructors know how to tailor their recommendation letters to suit all the colleges you’re applying to. However, if you want to be absolutely certain, it’s wise to double-check with them. While it’s rare, your transcript might list the schools you’ve applied to. Again, you can consult your counselor to verify this and gain peace of mind.

Early Decision

Early decision is another way for colleges to see what other schools you’ve applied to. Under the terms of this admissions timeline, you’ll be required to sign an agreement committing to enroll in the college if accepted and to withdraw any other applications you may have submitted.

Some of the country’s most prestigious schools have been found sharing the names of students accepted into their early decision programs. They claim this is to ensure applicants aren’t violating any Early Decision policies and to reassure potential students that the program won’t affect their admission chances.

However, in 2018, the Department of Justice (DOJ) began investigating whether this practice violated federal antitrust laws.

Admissions officials have defended the policy, arguing that students enter the early decision agreement voluntarily. If students don’t want their information shared, they shouldn’t apply under early decision.

The main takeaway? As long as you adhere to the terms of your Early Decision agreement, you have nothing to worry about. Ensure you withdraw other applications if accepted under Early Decision and never wait for a decision “just for fun.” Doing so would violate the agreement and potentially deprive other students of the opportunity.

During an Interview or Application Process

When interviewing prospective students, admissions officers may pose the question, “Where else are you applying?” According to the NACAC Code of Ethics and Professional Practices, they can verbally ask this, provided the response isn’t used to influence decisions regarding admission, scholarship, or financial aid. If the motive isn’t to protect their yield, why would colleges be curious about your other applications? They might utilize this information for marketing, gaining insights about competing educational institutions, and refining recruitment strategies. While this seems harmless and unlikely to affect your admission chances, there’s more to consider.

Many institutions gauge their prestige by the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll. Therefore, they’re protective of their yield rates. If you reveal applications to higher-ranked institutions, the college in question may deduce that they are merely your backup. This could diminish your chances of admission as they seek to maintain their yield rate. College admissions personnel, who assess numerous applicants annually, can infer their institution’s rank based on your profile details.

Student talking her interviewer in an office.

Occasionally, you might encounter this query in an interview or on certain applications, though it’s uncommon. Controversially, in 2015, the Common Application was criticized for permitting colleges to inquire about other schools an applicant applied to. If posed this question, it’s advisable to be deliberately vague. For example, mention general attributes, like “I’m applying to other institutions known for robust environmental science programs” instead of specifying schools.

Some colleges, keen on identifying overlapping applicants, send post-admission questionnaires to understand cross-applications better. Others might be curious about near-miss applicants. While it would be inappropriate to question after a rejection, it’s the only time they can gather such insights.


In the past, reputable publications asserted that colleges not only examined the list of schools on your FAFSA form but might also base decisions on the order in which you listed those institutions. Though it’s been a muted topic in recent years, claims were previously made about its influence.

This stems from the belief that the order in which you list schools might reflect your preference. To sidestep potential complications, simply list your schools alphabetically. This sequence won’t disclose any personal predilections.

A Few Additional Considerations

In a similar vein, Forbes advises prospective college students to be judicious in ranking schools on their four free ACT score reports. While it’s hard to verify the extent of this claim, it’s prudent to list your schools alphabetically here as well.

Moreover, we generally advise against utilizing the free score reports, as you won’t know your score before it’s sent.

There are suggestions that colleges are increasingly adopting high-tech methods, like analyzing applicants’ social media behaviors and online activities, to glean insights into prospective students. The extent to which data from online activities informs admission decisions is hard to ascertain, given its nascent and covert nature. Nonetheless, it’s wise to be cognizant of potential tracking.

Even promotional emails from colleges you’re applying to should be opened. Institutions can track your interaction with their communications, using this data to gauge your genuine interest.

The Key Point

While most college admission decisions hinge on standard criteria like GPA, standardized test scores, and extracurricular involvement, the number of applications you’ve sent out isn’t typically a factor.

Even so, there are other ways for colleges to see what other schools you’ve applied to, provided that they are interested in that information; however, your strategy should be to minimize their ability to access such information.

Do Colleges See When You Add Them to the Common App?

What can schools see about your application before you officially submit it through the Common App? The Common App, utilized by over 900 educational institutions (including some outside the U.S.), streamlines a crucial part of the college admissions process.

Two people reading a likely letter in a table.

Whether students are applying for the first time or as transfers, this platform allows them to submit applications to multiple colleges simultaneously. As a result, they only need to input shared details, like their name, address, and extracurriculars, once.

Schools won’t have access to the information on your profile until you add them to your “My Colleges” list. From that point on, they can only view the data you’ve provided for their specific institution. They won’t see applications you’ve submitted to other schools.

Colleges you’ve included in the “My Colleges” section can access the following application details:

Prefix, First Name, Middle Name, Last Name, Suffix, Preferred Name, City, State, ZIP, Country, Ethnicity, Gender, Applicant ID, Citizenship Status, Date of Birth (DOB), Entry Term, Decision Type, Applicant Type (First Year or Transfer), Academic Interest, Paid Status, Recommenders, School CEEB, and School Name.

If you opt to let schools communicate with you before officially applying, they can also see:

Your Social Security Number, Permanent Home Address, Cell Phone Number, Alternate Phone Number, and Email Address.

Once you apply to a school, they’ll have access to all information within that specific application.

Do Universities Talk to Each Other About Applicants?

For the most part, the answer is a resounding “no.” College admissions officers typically do not confer privately about which prospective students have applied to their institutions. They are too engrossed in evaluating applications to engage in such discussions.

Female student reading a likely letter.

Some applicants worry that applying to multiple schools might portray them as indecisive or desperate. However, even if admissions officers notice multiple applications from the same student, it’s unlikely they’d form a negative impression based on that alone.

Exceptions Do Exist

Remember the phrase “for the most part” used earlier. Occasionally, transcripts might have annotations about an applicant’s activities, like the dates and destinations of their application submissions. But this rarely influences their acceptance chances.

Some colleges may ask applicants about other institutions they’re considering. This inquiry is less about the student’s benefit and more about gathering data for the college’s future marketing and recruitment strategies. It isn’t meant to foster competition and typically doesn’t affect admissions decisions.

Certain Colleges Do Inquire

Regarding whether colleges can see where else students have applied, the Common Application did allow colleges to ask students about other schools to which they had applied. This drew mixed reactions, with some critics suggesting that institutions might use this information to reject candidates or limit financial aid offers. However, not all colleges pose this question.

A consortium of highly selective colleges shares their Early Decision acceptee lists, but only post-acceptance. Hence, there’s no need to worry about this affecting admission chances.

To sum up, while there might be exceptions, the general consensus is that universities don’t discuss applicants among themselves. And even if they did, it’s improbable that this would be a factor in admissions decisions. Still, it’s essential to remain informed about these nuances during the application process.

If you’re looking for guidance to best prepare you for entry into one of the country’s elite universities, we’ve got you covered! At AdmissionSight, we boast over 10 years of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process.

We can assist you with your admission requirements. AdmissionSight will support you throughout the entire admissions process to enhance your chances of gaining entry into an Ivy League institution.



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