Admissions

Too Much Good News?

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The calendar is about to turn to March. It has been a long winter for some of us. We had the Polar Vortex, lots of snow and ice, and high winds that may have knocked us offline -- a fate worse than not getting any texts in the past 10-15 minutes!

The month of March and the first few days of April are the main season for college acceptances. Decisions are imminent. For a thorough review of what the exact dates are for key colleges’ acceptance notifications, check this thread on the College Confidential discussion forum. You’ll see dates as early as March 5 and as late as April 15. Smart money has most of the Ivies delivering their decisions March 28, with the others on April 1. How many April Fools jokes will happen that day?


Across these next six weeks, colleges will be issuing their acceptances, denials and wait-listings. Some of you may have already received a likely letter, which is early good news. Most of you, however, are just waiting … waiting for that “fat” envelope or email (can an email message be fat?).

Let’s say that you have applied to at least a half-dozen schools. If you’re a savvy applicant, you have spread the hoped-for wealth of your possibilities across the “Reach-Target-Safety” spectrum. Of course, I realize that many seniors these days are hardly satisfied with, or feel secure about applying to only six colleges.

I’ve actually worked with seniors who have applied to 10, 15 and even 20 (!) colleges, a feat enabled by the Common Application. While I may be able to see ten applications out there working for you, quite frankly, 15 or 20 applications is just plain excessive, in my professional opinion.

To me, applying to 15-20 schools represents both a lack of specificity about what one wants in a college as well as a kind of desperate shotgunning of admission chances. Other than the time, effort and expense required for a dump truck load of applications, I don’t think a young person (or his/her family) is ready to deal with the possible outcomes of that many applications, which brings us to the thrust of my post today — how to handle an abundance of good news.

Embarrassment of Riches?

Let’s say that you aren’t quite as prolific as those who have submitted applications to a “teen” number of schools (13, 15, 17, etc.) Let’s also assume that you have done diligent research and considered as many personal and family circumstances as possible before your final group of applications went to the schools. By “circumstances,” I mean your own criteria for selecting a college (location, size, weather, available majors, etc.) as well as your family’s financial position (going through the NPC -- Net Price Calculator process) and having an honest discussion about affordability. There may also be other considerations, but these are fundamental.

Thus, your carefully considered list of schools generated all those applications. You chose not to limit yourself by applying Early Decision (ED), since ED is a binding contract whereby you pledge to attend if accepted, sometime before Christmas of your senior year. Maybe you applied Early Action (EA), which is a more forgiving type of first-choice option, allowing you to get good news early, but not requiring your commitment before May 1.

You may have already received an EA acceptance, so you’re assured of at least one place to go this fall, assuming that the money numbers work for you and your parents. You may have also gotten some good news from a safety school or two through their rolling admissions protocol. If some or all of the above factors are true, congratulations! You’re in the driver’s seat right now.

However, chances are that the applications you’re most eagerly anticipating are still out there, waiting to be resolved. There’s a possibility that more than one of those key schools will be sending you good news. If so, what then?

I call this “an embarrassment of riches.” Look at you! You’re sitting there, after the admissions dust has settled, with a pile of good-news mail, both paper and electronic. You may have even received a T-shirt or other school-related gear, tempting you to enroll. What’s a lucky senior to do?

Consider This Question 

I've seen this question or a variation of it posed now and then by anxious parents: “My daughter was accepted to two colleges that she really likes. The colleges have told us that we must submit our deposit by May 1. Since we may not be completely sure by then, can we just submit two deposits so that we have more time to make a decision?”

On the surface, this may sound like a reasonable approach to the “abundance of good news” situation. However, Purvi S. Mody, who answers these types of questions, has some good insights about that. Here’s some wisdom from her:

I know that it can be often times difficult to make the all important decision about where your child will go to college, but you should only submit a deposit and an Intent to Register to one university. The Intent to Register is a contract that your daughter (and you) are signing with one college that she will attend in the Fall. She obviously cannot promise two colleges that she will attend. The May 1st deadline allows students ample time to research their college thoroughly. Chances are that a couple of additional weeks will not make the decision making process any easier.

Another crucial no-no associated with double-depositing is that it takes a slot away from some other deserving applicant who may be hanging by a thread on a waitlist. Hedging your bet by trying to cover all possibilities just isn’t the right thing to do. ...

Mody goes on to detail four different areas of multiple-acceptance logic. Here are some of her key points:

– Visit (or revisit) both campuses again if you can. If you have not already done so, try to visit the colleges that are under consideration. If you can’t make a trip, have your child talk to current students. If s/he does not know anyone at the two schools, have him or her call the admissions offices and ask to speak to students.

– Make sure you’re set with financial aid. If you are waiting on financial aid award letters to make the decision, do not hesitate to contact the financial aid offices. 

– Dig deeper into your indecision and figure out fit. You and your child need to really ask yourselves why this decision is so difficult. Are you confused about academic programs? Is distance playing a major role? Is brand driving your decision? Make a list of pros and cons and see which college comes out on top. Think long term about what your child wants to do after college. 

– Accepting an offer after getting off an admissions waitlist? The only situation in which you would eventually withdraw an Intent to Register would be if your child were eventually accepted off a waitlist. In this scenario, s/he would need to accept just one offer by May 1st. 

Mody offers solid advice regarding multiple acceptances, but parents should keep in mind that while you will likely have the final say in matters of affordability, your son or daughter should be the expert on matching considerations. S/he will be spending those undergraduate years on campus, not you. Thus, don’t fall into the trap of trying to influence an enrollment decision based on some vicarious motivation to achieve an unrealized dream of yours through your child.

The issue of double-depositing deserves some additional detail. These comments come from the College Board and address ethics:

Double depositing means putting down a deposit, and thus accepting admission, at more than one college. Since a student can’t attend multiple colleges, it is considered unethical. Why might students and families do this, considering that it would mean forfeiting one deposit?

The main reasons are:

 - To buy time to decide on a college when the student has been accepted by more than one. The usual decision deadline is May 1; by double depositing, a student can delay deciding until fall.

- To continue negotiating financial aid offers with more than one college past the May 1 decision deadline.

- Because the student is on a waiting list at one college and wants to ensure enrollment somewhere in case of being turned down. This scenario is the only one in which NACAC considers double depositing acceptable.

Why is double depositing unethical?

It's deceitful. Students know they can only attend one college, so they are essentially lying when they notify more than one that they intend to enroll.

It's unfair to the college. If the practice continues, colleges may  find they can't predict the size of the incoming class with any accuracy. They may take actions such as enlarging the waiting list or increasing deposit amounts (both of which will impact future applicants).

 It's unfair to other applicants. The double depositor is taking up a spot that could go to another student, who will instead be put on a waiting list or turned down.

Dealing with multiple acceptances is an important issue, which I’m hoping you’ll have the chance to address (but not double-depositing!). If you’re looking for additional perspectives on solving this positive conundrum, you can find some here, here, and here.

I wish all of you a mailbox -- both physical and electronic -- filled with good news over the coming weeks. If that’s the case and you find yourself in Quandaryville, keep in mind the information above. Here’s to success and the perfect decision!