Preparing for College

Accepting a Waitlist Offer After Depositing Elsewhere

Question: How does one handle making a deposit at a college with the May 1 deadline, then being offered a spot on the waitlist of a top-choice school in June and preferring to take that? I am willing to lose a deposit but not be sued!

It's neither illegal nor unethical to withdraw from a college after May 1 because you accepted a waitlist spot at another school (or if you change your mind for any reason). Of course, you should expect to forfeit your deposit, but at least you won't lose your good karma. :-) (Exception: Recruited athletes at the Div. 1 or Div. 2 level can be penalized when backing out of written commitments.)


If you're hoping to get good news from a top-choice college that has placed you on the waiting list, you must, of course, make a deposit elsewhere by May 1. But it's wise to hold off on that deposit until as close to May 1 as possible, while still making sure that you accept your place in the class by the deadline (and don't risk being even a nanosecond late or you could lose your spot!). Although most waitlist action doesn't start until after May 1, when admission officials will be able to see how many vacancies remain in the class, sometimes when deposits are trickling in too sluggishly, colleges will start taking students off the waitlist much sooner.

So make sure that you write to the college that has waitlisted you to let them know that you are still eager to enroll. If you will definitely attend if admitted, be sure to say that, too, and also include a list of any new achievements or activities that might help to push your application folder into the "In" pile.

You may have already discovered that a growing number of colleges are pressuring students to reply before May 1 by insisting that those who don't will miss out on housing priority or scholarship offers. Note that it is illegal for any college that subscribes to the National Candidates Reply Date Agreement (which is most of 'em) to demand a non-refundable deposit--or any sort of commitment--before May 1.

Admission officials are accustomed to losing students after May 1 when the domino effect of waitlist movement kicks in. So, if you're eventually admitted to a waitlist school, don't worry about saying "Thanks, but no thanks" to the college where you've already enrolled --though you'll be saying "Goodbye" to your deposit as well. :-( But, as a courtesy, it's always nice to explain why you're withdrawing and where you're heading and to thank the admission staff for their efforts on your behalf. You never know how things will work out down the road, so you'd be smart not to burn any bridges.