D Day, May 1, officially known in college admissions circles as “National College Decision Day” is also affectionately called by others as “Deposit Day”. In reality, it is both. It is the date high school seniors must respond to a college they have been admitted to, that they will attend. And along with that response, a deposit is needed.
In the past few years, the practice of double deposits has been growing. This is the case when a student sends two deposits to two different schools. Of course it’s impossible to attend two different schools come September, so the student (or family) that does this, is probably trying to hedge their bets. In most cases the student might be waitlisted at their top choice school, or still negotiating financial aid awards, or in some cases just trying to gain more time to make a better decision.
Making a decision by May 1 is not easy, especially if you’ve been waitlisted at a school which is your top choice. Most people feel the case of the waitlisted student is difficult and not necessarily double depositing. A waitlisted student should send in their deposit to a school they have been accepted to so at least they know they have secured a spot somewhere. If they do get in off the waitlist and choose to attend, as long as they immediately notify the first school they will not be attending, they are not really considered to have double deposited. And of course they will not get their deposit back.
Are Double Deposits Unethical?
But there’s debate within admissions circles if double depositing for other reasons is unethical. A few years ago in a New York Times article on this subject, an independent counselor was quoted as saying “If colleges are going to play games, can they blame families for also playing games?” Add to this what Andrew Flagel, SVP for Students and Enrollment at Brandeis University, once suggested to his colleagues:
“I really like when the argument gets all fired up as a debate on ethics. It seems particularly charming that the same universities that are sending massively manipulative marketing materials (oh how I love alliteration) and providing entirely opaque information on scholarship and financial aid policies [that] they manipulate behind the scenes, then call students unethical for not being able to make up their minds by May 1…. I know I’ll catch a lot (A LOT) of flack for this, but it isn’t unethical, it’s a purchasing decision (let the flack begin!). You can place deposits on any number of items (say a car, just to draw the comparison most likely to inflame my colleagues) and decide NOT to make that purchase without being in the least unethical, can’t you?”
In addition, some believe the language at the bottom of the signature page of the Common Application* that forces students to agree they will send in only one deposit, may not hold up in a court of law. Paul Hemphill, a college consultant, had the language reviewed by a lawyer who said “……colleges are not exempt from the antitrust laws. My initial thought is that courts conceivably could find the sharing of “deposit” information of accepted applicants to be collusive and illegal.”
Paul also cites the anti-trust case of United Sates vs Brown University which “determined that the Ivy League colleges actually shared infomation about applying students. They were legally forced to stop this practice. But this hasn’t stopped colleges from their on-going practice of intimidating students. That’s because intimidation doesn’t mean violation of the law, just an obnoxious violation of a student’s peace of mind. Here’s why the Common App people are using this language: colleges are their clients, and the colleges loathe the fact that parents make multiple deposits to colleges to hedge their bets in making their final decision. So the language is in there deliberately.” (read more of Paul’s comments on this subject)
What to do?
High school guidance counselors are the final gatekeepers in this process. If they receive requests from more than one college for a final transcript, they may notify schools. There is the threat that a college will rescind your child’s offer, but that hasn’t happened yet. The bottom line is, you’ll have to decide your own ethics, how you feel about the college admissions process, and if there’s a chance of colleges finding out.
Some valuable comments from Seth Bykofsky of College Connection:
“The real dilemma in “doubling down,” as I see it, is not so much the ethics (since when did the collegiate industrial complex become the last bastion of morality?), but rather, the holding of a spot, possibly until the fall, that could otherwise go to a student-applicant who sits precariously, on pins and needles, on the college waitlist.
Of course, this begs the question as to the ethics of the waitlist, where colleges routinely put applicants on the admissions equivalent of terminal hold, pending enrollment for the coming school year.
Add to this the fact that students on a waitlist must “commit” to a college on or before May 1, while waitlist decisions are not made until sometime after May 1, if ever.
On the other side of the coin, students will have to choose between schools at some point. With financial aid awards in hand, and having had ample time to visit, research, and weigh all options, it is not unreasonable to expect that students will get off the pot, making that significant, though not quite life-altering decision, on or before May 1. Straddling the fence, and playing both sides against the middle, should not be necessary.
And one more thing… Once students say YES to their chosen colleges, they should also let the colleges that will not be graced by their presence know that they will not be coming. Free up that spot for someone who really wants to go to that school.”
*Language from the Common Application – Required: I affirm that I will send an enrollment deposit (or equivalent) to only one institution; sending multiple deposits (or equivalent) may result in the withdrawal of my admission offers from all institutions. [Note: students may send an enrollment deposit (or equivalent) to a second institution where they have been admitted from the waitlist, provided that they inform the first institution that they will no longer be enrolling.]