Paying for College

Enrollment Deposits

May 1 will soon be here. Why is that an important date? Well, just about every college that has admitted you requires that you let them know by May 1 whether or not you're going to enroll. Even if you're not going to enroll, don't forget to mention that to all the schools that want you. That way, another accepted applicant (possibly from a waitlist) can take your spot.

Along with your enrollment decision comes (in most cases) the enrollment deposit, which is usually in the neighborhood of several hundred dollars. Committing to enrolling by sending in a deposit has lead to some interesting (and controversial) strategizing by high school seniors and their families. That's what I'd like to highlight in today's post here.


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The practice of so-called "double depositing" has become something of chess game. It has gained national exposure this past week in two prominent places. First, The Washington Post and, second, the College Confidential discussion forum. Here are some excerpts from both the Post article by Bruce Vinik and the CC forum's comments to help you tune in to what this movement is all about. Then, hopefully, you'll be able to form your own opinion about whether double depositing is a good or bad thing.

Is it okay to double deposit at colleges?

Double depositing: Two words that strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned college admissions officers.

Now that high school seniors have received the news they have been anxiously awaiting for the last few months, the time has arrived for them to make one final decision.

If they have been fortunate enough to gain admission to more than one college, they must decide where they intend to spend the next four (or more) years. And that decision must be made by May 1st, the national reply date for all admitted students.

For many students, this is an easy decision; they have a clear first choice and know exactly where they want to go to college. To guarantee themselves a space at their favorite school, all they need to do is send a non-refundable enrollment deposit check. At some colleges this may be as little as $100, while at others it can be as much as $500 or $1,000.

For some students, the final choice is not so easy. They have two or three colleges that they are considering and aren’t sure about what to do; they love all of their schools for different reasons. And though they re-visit their colleges and look to teachers and friends (and even parents) for guidance, they are racked by indecision. So what do they do? They postpone the inevitable by sending checks to two colleges – that is, they double deposit.

What many of these students and their parents don’t know is that double depositing is a violation of their responsibilities as established by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). The reason many of them don’t know they are in violation is that they have never heard about this or any other “responsibility” and have no idea who or what NACAC is. But students need to understand that double-depositing is wrong.

Colleges dislike double depositing because the practice creates an enormous amount of uncertainty about the size of their incoming freshman classes. They can’t be certain about the number of students who are going to show up for the fall because they can’t be certain that each student who has made a deposit will attend . . .

Next, here are some sample comments from College Confidential forum posters who have read Vinik's article:

I find it ironic how colleges, through a "professional" organization, NACAC, tell us it is wrong to double deposit, because it makes things difficult for the college in managing enrollment!

When one considers how much spin is performed by colleges, some of which borders on dishonesty, it takes a tremendous amount of guts, IMHO, to hold our kids to standards not of their choosing.

Consider:

Colleges go out of their way to paint a pretty picture on campus visits. They publish (via web, formerly in print) viewbooks and other materials to put their institution in the best possible light. Worse, they block the release of information, such as alcohol consumption, that would be very helpful for families in making a decision.

Then, they give our kids 30 days to make a decision, right at the time they're preparing for graduation, studying for AP exams and so forth.

The college's argument, of course, is that a kid has all year to explore and investigate one's options. But who can (or should?) invest great time exploring an option that might not even be available?

So, they make a "rule" that works for them, but not for us?

Am I alone in being troubled by this?

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Not to mention the whole having to deposit before signing up for housing thing. In our experience this year, if you wait until the actual due date (May 1) for most schools, you will miss out on preferred housing. Sure you may have the luxury of time in choosing your college, only to finally select it and not have the benefit of the "top notch" housing which factored into your decision. Double depositing seems the only way to get around this. Add to this the fact that some Departmental Scholarships are not being awarded until later in April and, without knowing the $ to factor it in to your decision, you have almost no choice but to double deposit to hedge your bets.

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Come on folks, it's integrity 101. You don't enter two binding employment contracts, you don't marry two women or men, you don't put two binding offers on a house -- why the hell would you legally commit to two schools?

And what school would want a kid self-absorbed enough to do it.

When it comes to personal integrity, it does not matter how you "spin" all that is "wrong" with college conduct or any external entity. It is about who you are being inside your life and within your own choices.

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Re: housing decisions. DSs #1 choice has already had Honors housing selection. This was done late March and AFAIK cannot be done again until late April. Those who did not deposit early are now in the situation of having to hope to be pulled into a room with someone who has already deposited and chosen a room/roommates. This is not hypothetical, I'm watching it right now.

Consequently there are quite a few students with rooms chosen etc. who may later decide to pull out when their remaining decisions come in. I don't see any way around it, deposit and choose your room in the first round or risk not having your choice of living situation. It's the gamble each family has to decide whether or not to take as the admit. deposit is non-refundable.

Additionally, orientation spots and group volunteer programs are filling up quickly. There is a genuine risk of missing out on choices for either if the student (heaven forbid!) waits until May 1 for his decision.

Is it better to have students make a hasty selection on their college before all the facts are in? The admits to certain programs, actual cost to attend etc.?

Are we penalizing students for taking heir time to make a measured decision based on ALL factors?

Unless this changes double-depositing will continue. I'm convinced some colleges rely on it as an additional source of revenue.

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My son applied to a bunch of schools, he is returning 1 deposit to University of Florida. They actually told potential admits that to ensure they had housing they had to apply and submit a small deposit BEFORE THEY EVEN FOUND OUT IF THEY WERE ADMITTED. On top of that, if you were admitted and wanted housing you had to return another housing deposit by April 1st. Yet, we don't have to turn in the deposit for the school until May 1st.

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When my son went through the admission season, he rec'd an acceptance from a Big 10 U early in Feb or March. We had to send off a small housing deposit $50 to get him in line for housing, and it was refundable if he didn't enroll. It was not an enrollment deposit. Later he was admitted to a U he preferred... and enrolled there by the May 1 deadline. The Big 10 U refunded us. Are you certain these housing deposits are non refundable if the student doesn't enroll? It might be worth checking.

I think double depositing is just postponing the day of decision making. As of May 1 the student should have all the information in hand as to acceptances and financial aid. Why enroll at two places? What is going to change? The only rationale I could see is in the event of a shaky job situation for a parent that might change over the summer. Otherwise, I think it's best to make a commitment and end what is generally an anxiety provoking process that has been ongoing since the second semester of junior year... a year and a half.

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Yes ;students do "double deposit" and there is a term " SUMMER MELT' which is: summer melt n. a" reduction in the number of students who enroll at a specific college or university in the autumn, as compared to those who earlier in the year confirmed they would attend".

Odd as it may sound ;students double deposit at Graduate schools also>

Smallest "summer melt" at Chicago Booth results in the largest enrolment in the school's history - Al Bawaba | Encyclopedia.com

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"Why don't we all report to the governemnt where we are all attending, rather than just the schools. That way, they can track who is double depositing and get the rescinded from both. "

Not a government issue. There are reasons why we don't create lists of all the Jews in the country either. Even if this were a government issue (which is absolutely isn't) what would the government do? What about kids who double deposit to a school in the country and a school out of the country?

"And colleges don't rescind students because a better student comes along. They rescind a very very small number of students because they didn't live up to the academic (or behavioral) standards that got them accepted in the first place."

You say tomato, I say tomato. Doesn't really work when I type it but you get it. We're each putting our own bias on it, but we're talking about the same thing. I'm not trying to claim that there's anything wrong with it, but they do it.

"Your reasoning on the Common App is specious. If it warns you that your spot might be removed if you double-deposit, that means you are NOT supposed to do it. That's like saying the fine you pay for speeding doesn't mean that speeding is against the law. That makes no sense."

I think it's analogous to saying that it's not bad to speed, not that it's not illegal to speed. It clearly is illegal, but it isn't clearly "bad." I do take your point but I still see one key difference, when you speed society is negatively affected (supposedly), everyone is negatively impacted. When you double deposit, a business is negatively affected. Businesses are negatively affected all the time, and a lot of times we consider it good.

"Colleges are not "businesses." They are non-profit institutions."

Just because they aren't paying out dividends doesn't mean they're not trying to obtain as much money as they can. And I wouldn't believe for a second that there's no embezzlement out of them, or that there aren't frivolous expenditures on the people running the colleges out of their college's coffers.

"If you send them a deposit, they expect to receive payment for someone to live in their dorm and take their classes. There are always exceptional circumstances, but if everyone multiple-deposited the result would be utter chaos. Colleges would have no idea if they have way too many students, or way too few, until classes actually start in the fall, and then it's way too late to plan for the correct number of rooms, professors, etc."

Some people needed to take some more math classes then. Risk management or something like that. All other businesses figure out how to deal with uncertainty, colleges need to do the same (and that should be easy since they actually teach these classes). And if everyone is double depositing at a particular college, their deposit is WAY too low.

But as it was said before, this really isn't a major problem. Colleges do factor this into their admissions. They can reasonably accurately predict it, and when they're off a little bit, they can take care of it.

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"Waitlists are not helpful to students who require FA."

You mean not always; they are helpful when they are helpful. We hear of cases where FA was given to a waitlistee.

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So there you have it--some background and comments on the brave new world of double depositing. So what do you think? Good thing or bad thing?

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.