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Articles / Applying to College / Dealing with Multiple Acceptances

Feb. 25, 2016

Dealing with Multiple Acceptances

It's that time of year for high school seniors. Colleges will soon be issuing their acceptance (or denial or waitlist) decisions over the coming weeks. Some of you may have already received a likely letter. Most of you, however, are just waiting … waiting for that “fat" envelope or email (can an email message be fat?).

Let's play optimist. 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-Ballpark (sometimes referred to as 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 seen or heard about seniors who have applied to 10, 15, even 20 (!) colleges, a feat that has been 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-to-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.

Okay. Let's say that you aren't quite as manic as those who have submitted applications to a “teen" number of schools (13, 15, 17, etc.) Let's assume that you have done diligent research and considered as many personal and family circumstances as possible before your final group of applications went in. 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 that I've mentioned are fundamental.

So, 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 before Christmas but not requiring your commitment before May 1.

You may have already received an EA acceptance (or two, if you didn't apply SCEA (Single Choice Early Action, which is a kind of hybrid that falls somewhere between ED and general EA), 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 is true, congratulations! You're in a cool 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 tee-shirt or two or other school-related gear, tempting you to enroll. What's a lucky senior to do?

In doing some research related to this situation, I came across an article that included a question from a puzzled parent:

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 sounds like a reasonable approach to the ol' abundance-of-good-news situation. However, Purvi S. Mody, who answers this question, says:

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. For more details about the ethical side of applications, check out this College Board article.

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

– Visit (or revisit) both campuses again if you can.

If you have not already done so, try to visit the … colleges that [your daughter is] considering. If [she can't] make a trip, have your daughter talk to current students. If she does not know anyone at the two schools, [have her] call the admissions offices and ask to speak to students. They may also be able to connect [her] to young alumni that are local to you.

– 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. Confirm that your aid applications are complete. If they are waiting on additional documentation, make sure to get the papers to them immediately. If you are trying to appeal for more aid, evaluate the two colleges on all other factors so that once you get revised financial aid information the choice is clear. Do not hesitate to notify the admissions offices that you are deciding between two schools and that finances might be the deciding factor …

– Dig deeper into your indecision and figure out fit.

You and your daughter 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 daughter wants to do after college. If she is contemplating some sort of graduate program, does either college have a greater success rate. Try to learn about the cultures of the two schools to see where your daughter might be a better fit. Are there specific opportunities, academic or extracurricular, that are present at one school and not the other? …

– 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 daughter were eventually accepted off a waitlist. In this scenario, she would need to accept just one offer by May 1st. When she was given an acceptance from the waitlist, she would contact the school where she submitted her deposit and notify it that she needs to withdraw her intent. You will most likely lose the deposit at that school …

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.

If you never had the chance to go to [college name here], don't try to influence your progeny to go there just to have the satisfaction of being able to drop that school's name at your next party or golf outing. Enough said about that.

Whatever the case, 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!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles at College Confidential.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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