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Posted at 6:31 AM ET, 04/ 1/2010

The problems with double depositing: Part 2

By Valerie Strauss

Here is the view of Michael Sexton, vice president for enrollment management at Santa Clara University in California, on the practice of double depositing.

By Michael Sexton

Spring is college acceptance time, followed by decision time. In all of the strategizing and game-playing that have become the college selection process, we are down to the final decision this month. Or ... are we?

I intentionally use the word "we" here as the student involved may, or may not, be part of the final act of scheming that sometimes commences later this month. For some, the national candidates’ reply date of May 1st is merely another calendar page to turn rather than the happy ending to the college search.

Unfortunately, 'tis the season of double depositing, the act of placing deposits at more than one institution, or simply watching the May 1 deposit deadline pass without informing colleges of one’s intentions.

There are parents and even some college counselors who feel that, given the stress of the college search and cost of college today, it’s acceptable to send deposits to two different schools and decide later which one to attend.

As someone who has spent a career in college admissions, I can say with certainty that my colleagues across the country feel this practice undermines the integrity of the admissions process, and that it violates the ethical standards set by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Here are some reasons why college admissions professionals strongly discourage double depositing:

* My institution usually has a critical mass of deposits by mid-April. (We just sent out acceptance letters in late March.) Some send in a deposit, but also send one to another college, essentially holding a seat they may not occupy. Double depositing gums up the works on wait lists. We have to send reminders of the May 1 deadline.

* The point of double depositing or waiting until after the May 1 deadline to decide to enroll escapes me. The entire college search process has been lengthened to months, even years. What more does a student or his or her family think they will learn at this late stage? One thing I know will not happen — financial aid awards are set by then. The pot doesn’t get sweetened at the last minute.

* We really need the May 1 deadline. Students need it so they can get on with taking their AP tests and finishing up their senior year. Parents need it so they can depressurize, and institutions need it because they need to plan to start the process all over again for next year’s class.

* The waiting and double-depositing games actually can have the effect not only of students not enrolling in the colleges of their choice, but also at a few colleges a seat not being taken.

This is rare, but I did hear a story of two selective institutions discovering a candidate had placed deposits at both schools; both rejected the applicant on that basis.

In the next few weeks, "Dateline" or "20/20" will probably do segments on the horror stories about students agonizing about being rejected or wait-listed by their choice college. Some of this anxiety stems from the gamesmanship that has developed in the college search process.

Speaking for my own institution, I would suggest to any applicants that if they are considering double depositing to please just enroll elsewhere. We have enough serious, committed students and parents who have made their decision and stuck with it.

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By Valerie Strauss  | April 1, 2010; 6:31 AM ET
Categories:  College Admissions  | Tags:  college admissions, double depositing  
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Where in a college application or in a college acceptance letter is it stated that "by agreeing to attend college xxxxx", I agree not to double-deposit" (or some such wording)?

The rules of the NACAC apply to school counselors, not to students, and any claim otherwise is not accurate. Prove me wrong!

Posted by: postisarag | April 1, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Agree wholeheartedly with Mr Sexton's scorn for those who feel "...the national candidates’ reply date of May 1st is merely another calendar page to turn rather than the happy ending to the college search." And who can argue against the notion that "We really need the May 1 deadline. Students need it so they can get on with taking their AP tests and finishing up their senior year. Parents need it so they can depressurize, and institutions need it because they need to plan to start the process all over again for next year’s class"? So to all those colleges, like Santa Clara, capable of finalizing all their acceptance decisions - early, regular and wait list - prior to the May 1 deadline: you are to be commended for not undermining "the integrity of the admissions process"!

But what about those colleges that don't follow Santa Clara's lead, accepting students off Wait Lists after May 1st. Isn't this also a form of double depositing? When colleges accept a student off the wait list, aren't they in fact taking a student who was "essentially holding a seat they may not occupy" at another college? And aren't these colleges that can't make acceptance offers by May 1st explicitly encouraging students to double deposit?

If we are going to lecture students and families on the purpose and morality of adhering to this date, shouldn't NACAC member colleges be leading by example? Your yield-management-formula not up to the task this year? Well, you have until May 1st to get it right. Forgeting for a moment the hypocracy, these schools invite cynicism that utilizing post-May 1 wait lists is about nothing more than maximizing enrollment and revenue; shifting their yield management shortcomings to another college and setting in motion those troubling, anxious moments for students colleges always seem to worry about. We hear how awful these double dippers are every year. Just curious, is there an annual study quantifying double deposit students vs. single deposit students who enroll elsewhere after being accepted off a wait list?

Posted by: chagfalls9608 | April 1, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Two quick points about May 1. First, postisarag is right: NACAC policies apply only to members, and students are not members. Many guidance counselors are NACAC members, however, and as such are expected to advise students about May 1 responsibilities. Consequently, it is not uncommon for secondary schools to develop policies that enforce a student's May 1 obligations.

Second, with regard to the "show me where it says this" challenge, here is one example. The signature section of The Common Application contains the following statement: "I also affirm that I will send an enrollment deposit (or the equivalent) to only one institution; sending multiple deposits (or the equivalent) may result in the withdrawal of my admission offers from all institutions." Of course, not all students will use the Common App. Still, for those who do, the expectation is explicit.

Posted by: sra8j | April 1, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

I agree that students shouldn't use double depositing to postpone making a decision. However, some colleges are contributing to this problem by pressuring students to commit early. My daughter applied to four colleges this year. Two had rolling admissions, and both of those assign housing based on when a student sends in a deposit. One college had a deadline of January 31st to apply to the dorm for her major. The other was upfront about the fact that May first is the deadline to hold a spot in the class, but to get a spot in any dorm, the deposit would need to be in several weeks earlier. A friend sent her daughter to an in-state public university a few years ago, and her daughter was on a waiting list into the summer for dorm housing because she did not deposit until April. None of this excuses keeping multiple deposits past May 1st, but please realize some colleges are part of the problem. Few people want to risk sending a teen to an unfamiliar city without campus housing. NACAC should insist colleges make all deposit deadlines May 1st before blaming students.

Posted by: Coloradoparent | April 2, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

As a parent and former academic, I am struck by Sexton's narrow perspective. NACAC has clear, vested interests in the current process and "standards." Moreover, Sexton does not (and perhaps cannot given the world in which he works) fully reflect what might go on in a family's decision-making. Family changes / uncertainty could all lead to very rationale double-depositing. Re: two "selective institutions discovered a student was double-depositing," unless that information was offered freely by the student, this strikes me as a clear violation of 1) privacy and 2) consumer anti-trust laws. Consumers are simply responding to the system confronting them - a system that has become increasingly unwieldy in a 21st century world. I would love to see market forces step up with new alternatives. It will happen. Perhaps just not driven by the U.S. institutions.

Posted by: abelke | April 3, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

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