April 17, 2020
My son has been admitted to multiple colleges, and he is trying to make his decision right now. Unfortunately, with campuses closed and admitted student day events canceled, he is struggling to decide which school to attend. Our hope is to visit campuses this summer to make the final decision, but with deposit days coming up soon, we may not be able to wait that long. Is it possible for us to put deposits down at two schools so we can hold his spot at both until he is able to visit and know for sure? We are in Michigan where a lot of colleges haven't extended the deposit deadlines.
The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned many changes. Some rules are now tighter (one-way supermarket aisles!) while others are looser ("Never mind those SATs"). But one rule that hasn't changed is that high school seniors can only commit to ONE college at a time, and it is still unethical to do otherwise.
"The Dean" has long urged high school seniors to visit their front-runner colleges after acceptance. "Even when you've seen a campus before," I tell them, "you'll view it in a new light when you realize that you're not just window-shopping anymore." But I have always added to this advice a crystal-clear "If possible."
This year, of course, it's almost always NOT possible. Yet for many teenagers, it's never been. Often, students from outside of the US or from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have the luxury of taking college trips, and they unpack their bags and boxes in September at a school they've only seen in pictures.
This year, as well, admission officials are struggling with uncertainties that they couldn't have ever imagined. Past information that enabled them to estimate how many admitted students would matriculate is almost useless, and they recognize that some seniors who say yes today may be forced to withdraw over the summer as family finances dwindle or as other virus-related concerns — such as "Where is it safe to go?" — impact their plans. Waitlists are longer, and the waits on them may be longer, too, as the admission folks look ahead to unprecedented "summer melt."
So, while it has always been unfair to hold a spot at more than one college, it is especially so now. As colleges wrestle with unfamiliar calculations and as families worry more than ever about the two most stressful college-decision issues — cost and location — it's imperative that those students who do have choices should make one as soon as possible.
Seniors stuck at home can take advantage of virtual campus tours and online presentations for admitted students. They can also gather information by joining admitted-student Facebook groups, seeking out current students at target colleges who share their interests, reading campus newspapers, and by asking questions on College Confidential. While these approaches won't offer what an on-site visit can provide, they do allow additional — and, perhaps sometimes more important — perspectives.
Many colleges have extended the traditional May 1 Candidates' Reply Date to June 1 (or beyond), but you noted that several schools in your area are not among them. However, as in the past, a student with extenuating circumstances can request an extension. "I can't visit campus" will not be viewed as a legit complaint, but a student who has been heading a household while parents work around the clock as health care providers (or who contracted the virus themselves) might be granted leeway to take additional time for research. A financial aid appeal in progress could be another reason that a deadline is postponed.
During these confusing and disturbing times, we must all be extra considerate of others. And one important way that high school seniors and their parents can do their part is to make their college decisions as soon as they can, without the privilege of campus visits, and to refuse to submit more than one deposit, even if it feels like a smart strategy at the time.
Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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