Can you commit to more than one school at and after May 1?

Well of course you CAN, but what are the consequences, and SHOULD you? This is being hotly debated on the admission list serv, where a number of my fellow admissions officers and many high school guidance counsellors are very concerned at the ethical breach you would be perpetrating were you to do such a dastardly thing.

I’m probably going to rot in a fiery inferno for saying so, but…”yawn”.

For one thing, lots of colleges will give you an extension if you really want one and ask nicely, especially if you are still waiting on financial aid information, so maybe you don’t need to put your self in this dire moral quandry.
If you do, do colleges find out and if so, will they punish you? For the most part, no. Most colleges assume some portion of their committed students are just kidding – we even have a name for it (“melt”) and plan for it in our enrollment models. In fact, at many schools if everyone showed up who had committed they wouldn’t have enough space. I know- this is a very strange way to work, but it’s true!
Some high schools will say they’ll only send your final transcript to one school – but that doesn’t really stop you from committing to more than one – you just need to make up your mind in time to get that final transcript to the right place. Also, if you really ask nicely many will be forced to send out more than one unless they have a clear policy that says they won’t.
Many counsellors worry that this practice will reflect really badly on their schools. I have yet to find an admissions officer that has held a student doing this against a high school’s future applicants. I imagine it’s possible, although I’d say also fairly petty and mean, but I’m sure someone must do so.
Generally everyone agrees that putting in more than one commitment is reasonable if the basis for multiple deposits is that the applicant and his or her family are still trying to work out financial aid issues. Since nearly everyone is still trying to work out financial aid issues in one way or another, this seems like a pretty big loophole to me, depending on how you define “working out” and “financial aid” and, of course, “loophole”.
The bottom line – we know that students on waitlists will need to deposit somewhere, so this kind of thing (dropping your commitment) is pretty much built into the system. Since we spend a ton of time and money selling you that there is a PERFECT SCHOOL I really can’t blame families for wanting more time to make up their mind. I know this makes the process harder on everyone, especially the students waiting on my waitlist hoping you’ll decide to go somewhere else (which would be a HUGE mistake since this is your PERFECT SCHOOL). And I know this makes life harder on us poor, stressed out admissions officers.
So try to make up your minds and pick one school. That would be better, and then you don’t have to feel guilty about holding a space some other student desperately wants. But is it an ethical breach to commit to more than one school? I don’t think so, at least not compared to the ways colleges and universities market to you, but bear in mind that many of my peers believe that, if you do send more than one commitment, you may just join me in that fiery inferno. Please bring marshmellows. Be seeing you.


6 Responses

  1. A different view from a New York Times article in 2006 that was posted to the list serv: Lots of people that I respect enormously are quoted in the article, so in fairness, there are a lot of really top notch administrators who are highly ethical who very much believe the practice of double depositing is unethical.

    May 20, 2006

    Admissions Officials Lament Practice of Signing On With More Than One College

    The envelope arrived at Allegheny College the first week of May. Inside was a form signed by a high school senior accepting admission. Inside,
    too, was a $500 check – made out to St. Lawrence University.

    It turned out, said Scott Friedhoff, who oversees admissions at Allegheny, that the student had accepted admission offers from both colleges, and made deposits to each.

    The incident is one example of the largely subterranean practice of double depositing – when high school seniors and their parents try to
    get around the May 1 deadline for accepting admission offers. At most colleges, double depositing is against the rules. Many admissions
    officials say they believe the practice is growing. And they say it is unfair.

    “It’s fundamentally dishonest to say to more than one college that that’s where you’re going to be in the fall,” said Dan Rosenfield, dean of enrollment management at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, “and it’s not a victimless crime.”

    Students who commit to more than one university risk having their admission offers withdrawn. But they also prevent someone else from being taken off a waiting list, and prevent colleges from predicting how
    many will enroll, Mr. Rosenfield and more than 20 other admissions deans and high school guidance counselors said in interviews.

    Andrea Navarro, a senior at Newton North High School in Massachusetts, called double depositing “unfair.”

    “A lot of my friends were wait-listed at their top choices,” she explained. “You’re in limbo; you’re not sure if you’re in or out.”

    But some parents and consultants counter that they double deposit to continue negotiating financial aid with several colleges. And they argue that since colleges market so aggressively, trying to attract more
    applicants than they can admit, consumers have every right to engage in their own strategems.

    “If colleges are going to play games, can they blame families for also playing games?” said Dodge Johnson, a private college counselor.

    Double depositing allows a student to mull over the summer where he or she really wants to go. And in a year in which some elite high school seniors have applied to 15 or 20 colleges, and received nearly as many offers of admission, some students are having trouble deciding.

    “They are accepted to so many colleges that they can’t come to a decision by May 1,” said Andy Morris, the associate director of admissions at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

    Mr. Morris said a few parents unapologetically told him this year that they wrote checks to two or more universities, even offering to tell him where.

    “I think parents are of a generation in which the idea of booking two airline flights or booking multiple hotel rooms are things that these parents do,” he said. “They are trying to hedge their bets.”

    Bruce J. Poch, a vice president and dean of admissions at Pomona College, said he had been surprised, and angered, when a friend told him
    two weeks ago that he had sent deposit checks to two colleges. “It’s an utterly selfish thing to do,” he said.

    Ms. Navarro, who was placed on a waiting list by Connecticut College, committed to Bowdoin College. She was then offered admission to Connecticut College two weeks ago, but after some serious
    soul-searching, decided to attend Bowdoin after all.

    Of students who double deposit, Ms. Navarro said: “They should just choose. They got in and they should decide.”

    There is no hard data on how many students double deposit, in part because colleges do not formally share information on who has committed
    to enroll. But the checks sent to Allegheny and St. Lawrence, and the other examples, are part of an accumulation of anecdotal evidence that
    has led many admissions deans, though not all, to conclude that double depositing is on the rise.

    “Absolutely, it’s become more common,” said Richard Whiteside, vice president for enrollment management and dean of admission at Tulane University, who said parents had also told him they had sent off several
    deposit checks. “My strong belief is that more families are doing it.”

    Carolyn Lawrence, who created a blog,, that provides information to students and parents, said that, for the first
    time this year, many parents had asked whether it was appropriate to commit to more than one school.

    In the past, admissions officials learned indirectly that a student had probably committed to several universities. In May and June, some students who have sent in deposits notify universities that another
    institution has offered to admit them from their waiting lists; this is legitimate, under the rules, although universities do not usually return deposits.

    But when students who sent in deposits by May 1 begin to fall away in July and August officials have assumed the students decided to attend
    another college to which they had also committed.

    Tulane, for instance, loses at least 75 people, and many of these are presumed to have double deposited, Dr. Whiteside said.

    “Personally, I don’t get too upset about this,” he said. “Like other things about our business, it’s just another force to deal with.”

    Several deans, including Eric J. Kaplan of Lehigh, said there had been talk of raising deposit fees to make double depositing more onerous, although some suggested that nothing would prevent some affluent parents from trying to get around the rules. Another idea deans talked about is to create a clearinghouse to identify offenders.

    Other admission officials, including Lee Stetson of the University of Pennsylvania and Robert Massa of Dickinson College, said they had not seen evidence that double depositing was increasing. Dr. Massa said Dickinson did not formally forbid students from committing to more than one college, although he said “common sense and fairness” suggested that
    it was inappropriate. He added that next year the college would, however, officially prohibit double depositing.

    Some parents said many colleges do not make clear the rules against double depositing. Ken Levin, a father who participates in an online discussion of college admissions, said it was unreasonable to bind
    parents and students to rules created by the admissions officials’ professional association.

    Fear of getting caught may discourage people from making multiple deposits, even though the most severe punishment – the rescinding of admissions offers – appears to be seldom invoked.

    The young man who sent deposits to Allegheny and St. Lawrence nearly forfeited his admissions offers. Dr. Friedhoff of Allegheny said that administrators had initially considered that penalty, but that after
    considerable discussion, he and Terry Cowdrey, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid at St. Lawrence, decided the punishment
    would be too harsh. The student was given a day to decide which college he wanted to attend. He chose Allegheny.

    Many admissions deans and college counselors said that although they expected to see more blatant examples of double depositing, it was time to end the practice.

    “The leadership in our profession needs to sit down and see what can we do realistically about this,” said Brad MacGowan, a college counselor at Newton North High School.

    “This college admissions process – what messages are we sending to kids?” Dr. MacGowan added. “That this is a game in which you win or lose.”

  2. I wanted to know what usually happens to people with appeals on admission or appeals on financial aid AFTER May 1st. Do they start taking in people off the wait list?

  3. It varies by school. Most will try to resolve appeals first, in case there are errors that need to be corrected (not that we ever make mistakes) and that is the case for Mason. Others will review waitlist and appeals on a rolling basis as space becomes available.

  4. I felt that this post is very important because you have very direct knowledge of what happens with many applications. With that being said, if you were to apply to a rolling admission school after May 1st, what would you recommend. If you yourself were to apply with the knowledge that you have now, what would you do? If you want to be specific please feel free. The more detailed the better. 🙂

  5. My advice wouldn’t change much after May 1 – make clear how much you want to go to the school and why. Better reason, “Mason has such amazing diversity and that’s the kind of environment where I’ll learn best, I know I want a school with the connections of a major city, and that Dean of yours is one terrific guy.” Not as good, “My boyfriend/girlfriend goes there.” “I didn’t get in anywhere else and now I want you to admit me even though I kind of don’t like you that much.” “I never thought about college and still probably won’t go but since I’m hanging out online I might as well apply since you’re still taking applications.”
    Believe it or not, in one form or another I have seen statements like these at pretty much every college where I’ve worked or consulted!

  6. That is really interesting, I am not sure why they would write something like that. I bet its those type of kids who have like a 1.0 GPA and still apply to all the ivy leagues just for fun. Thanks a lot though, the quote really helps!

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