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Articles / Applying to College / Accepting a Waitlist Offer After Depositing Elsewhere

March 18, 2010

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.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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