Is it unethical to double deposit?

There’s a common mantra among admissions officers and guidance counselors alike that admissions is NOTHING like any commercial process, so any comparison to a commercial process is immediately viewed with great derision. Among these the ultimate sin is to compare the admissions process to making a purchase, like buying a car or a house. Many of my colleagues, upon hearing such a grievous comparison, will launch into a round of invective worthy of politicians.

The discourse gets particularly strident this time of year as we approach the national May 1st deadline for students to submit their enrollment commitments. Admissions officers weeks ago began lamenting on their various listservs all the ways in which students try to manipulate this process, and trading suggestions for how we can discourage or even prevent students from depositing at more than one institution.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it would be delightful if you only pick one institution at which to deposit (especially if that choice is Mason, of course). There are many good reasons for the May 1 system, many of which are intended to protect applicants and their families. It should, theoretically, keep colleges from pressuring you to make a decision before May 1, since schools aren’t SUPPOSED to promise better housing/schedules/social life if you deposit sooner. It also theoretically allows universities to offer space to others if you’re NOT going to enroll, and for institutions to plan what kinds of courses to offer to meet your needs, how many orientation sessions to run, and how many bunk beds they have to squeeze into one room this year.

While all that’s well and good, I suspect many families (maybe even you) really couldn’t care less about making things more convenient for the colleges, and just maybe also don’t care much about whether some other student gets a space. This is partially because we are a society that likes the whole free market theory and are driven by self interest, and partially because families sense that these reasons are a big load of manure. They know about said manure because they read all the news reports that say that applicants are double depositing in ever increasing numbers, yet students continue to be admitted, faculty to be hired, etc.

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, which they maneuver behind the scenes, then call students unethical for not being able to make up their minds by May 1 so deciding to lose hundreds of dollars on deposits just to have more time. 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?

Let’s face reality – colleges already know that you might have been waitlisted somewhere else and committed to that waitlist. As a result, many of you will deposit at a place knowing that, should the place that wailisted you make an offer, you’re going to ditch the place you deposited. We also know that the number of students double depositing has been increasing rapidly (shhhh – what we don’t mention is that there’s really nothing we can do about that – other than keep your deposit).

Here’s my radical suggestion: justfor fun and giggles, how about all the colleges and universities decide that double depositing is NOT unethical, in fact it’s so acceptable we’d prefer you TELL US!!! I know, this sounds crazy – I mean, who wants to inject HONESTY into a system that’s working SO WELL (as the sarcasm drips from my keyboard)? Most of us already have models where we predict how many students that deposited won’t ever enroll – wouldn’t it be better to have actual student responses to help those models work?

Once again, I’m sure most of my colleagues will disagree and see this as expanding the marketing and confusion period well into the summer, but here’s a news flash – we’re already there!! So I say to you high school seniors, in these final days before May 1, I don’t consider double depositing unethical – I can even understand it and think we should have a system that embraces it! In the meantime, just to be safe, maybe you should only deposit at Mason. And by safe I mean, of course, safe for me. Be seeing you.


5 Responses

  1. Andrew, really enjoyed listening to you last week at South Lakes. I was especially impressed with you telling the students to NOT let the admissions process and universities have ‘that much control” over who they are. Truly inspired comment. Kids go through high school trying to figure out the ‘right person to be’. Our family philosophy is that a match made by trying to be someone you’re not is a match you won’t enjoy in the long term.

    All that said, I want to offer you a suggestion, with the greatest respect and enjoyment of your writing. Spellcheck and read it out loud before you publish. Some of the stream of consciousness stuff loses the thread, and the spelling…well, if you look at what I write for the Reston Library, you’ll see where I’ve been caught by this and have to continue to re-learn it.

    Ciao! Southlakesmom

    • Thanks for the comments and suggestions. I rely on a team of highly skilled proofreaders, and then I end up reguarly circumventing them in my rush to post. Fortunately they usually get to me before too many readers have seen my mistakes, but unfortunately you got to my post ahead of them today!

      Also, I tried reading it loud in the office, and decided to stop when the staff began throwing things at me. I’ll try it again when their unarmed.

  2. oh boy, I couldn’t disagree with you more here…this column is witty but ultimately unhelpful and does not move the conversation forward. Students have enough time. Their choices are in front of them. That’s why we work so hard to get decisions in the mail by April 1. I’m telling students now: DO NOT double deposit. Dean, this column just isn’t a good idea. Let’s not start drawing lines in the sand of trust and then tempting people to walk over them just because we feel we can. The rules are in place for a reason, let’s just move on from this conversation and onto more substantive ones. This is not chess, it’s college. Make a decision, buy a sweatshirt at the bookstore and finish you senior year with strong grades. Doing what this column advocates is a waste of time and in the end, not going to make your life any better or easier or less stressful. Sorry Dean, you got this one pretty wrong.

  3. Oh adam, sadly you highlight a huge flaw in the thinking of most admissions officers – a failure to recognize that I’m always right.
    On this particular issue, for instance, he line in the sand is a great analogy, since we routinely allow whatever tide is coming in to entirely obliterate that line. Colleges already assume double depositing and factor it into our process. Add to that that most institutions I spoke with at an admissions conference this weekend didn’t even get financial aid packages out until Mid April! How in the heck is a first generation college student supposed to make an informed decision about all the compexities of the cost of their education, not to mention dealing with the unscrupulous (aka – wealthy) instiutions that will renegotiate these offers, in just two weeks?
    Furthermore, since we’re already assuming some students double deposit, why not let them TELL US. Leave the May 1 deadline and make it the point at which you get massive pereferential treatment for housing, orientation, registration, etc (unlike the oh so moral universities that ignore THAT requirement by sneaking in demands that students respond before May 1 for such perks) and allow students to be honest in telling us when they’ve desposited at more than one place. I’m not suggesting we do so haphazardly, rather I think this should be done across the board and openly.
    I wouldn’t panic quite yet – I assume this will take the ratification of the national assocication, which at the lightning speed of our legislative process, has a reasonable chance of putting something into place before my son is in the admissions process. He’s seven and in first grade, but my timeline may be overly optimistic. Be seeing you.

  4. This column is entertaining as always – your frankness is a breath of fresh air. You’re someone I’d want looking over my application! Keep up the great work!

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