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Articles / Paying for College / Deposit Decisions

Deposit Decisions

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | April 20, 2017

May 1 is about to be upon us. Ten days from this writing, college decisions — and their related deposits — will be due.

Many of you may have already made that deposit, either through an Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) acceptance. Others, accepted Regular Decision (RD), may have made their enrollment deposit based on a clear first-choice nod.

However, a sizable contingent remains UNdeposited, pondering the pros and cons of various financial aid offers, geographic locations, curriculum choices, and other considerations. For them, the clock is ticking.

Naturally, pre-deposit visits are important. The advantages of “trodding the sod," as I always like to say, are many. Attendance at Accepted Students Days, in their various forms, can be a big plus in helping to make that final enrollment decision.

Of course, the thing to keep in mind is that colleges covet those enrollments and do much to make those special visit days memorable. It's a kind of wooing process, the likes of which affection students may not see again during their entire time on campus. So, let the accepted student beware. It's all about marketing a product — the college — to a “consumer" — you.

Parents and students are not completely at the mercy of the colleges, though. Strategies can be employed to “game" the system when it comes to enrollments. You may be surprised to hear that accepted students have any advantages, although some may appear shady, when it comes to playing the enrollment game.

One special case involving enrollment deposits concerns waitlisted students. This year I have become even more annoyed (and cynical) than ever about colleges and their waitlist shenanigans. For example, one of the young men I was helping with his college applications applied to 20 colleges. You may be shocked at that number, but in today's crazy work of college admissions, that's not an uncommon number, especially when aided by the relative ease of the Common Application. Of his 20, he was waitlisted at eight (!), fully 40% of his schools.

Whatever logic (or scheming) these eight had in mind is cruel, to my way of thinking. Twenty applications aren't cheap and I believe that applicants deserve closure, one way or the other. When one considers the expense of application fees that are now approaching $100 — coming soon, I predict, and you heard it here first!

By the way, a bit of a sidebar here …

Do you know how much money colleges make on their application fees from denied applicants? It's a lot. A recent article quantified the numbers. Here's an excerpt"

“… An example is Harvard University which earns $3 million in gross profits from rejected applications every year, and that is according to UCEazy. The data from the study also show that universities are able to make over $200 million in total from rejected applications because applicants are not prepared and unqualified …

… Here are the five schools that earn the most from rejected applications.

1. University of California-Los Angeles: $5,369,840

2. University of California-Berkeley: $4,681,320

3. Stanford University: $3,632,130

4. University of California-San Diego: $3,608,290

5. University of Southern California: $3,419,440″ …

You can read the comments of the College Confidential forum posters about that here.

Now I can't swear in court to this, but I would be willing to bet that the annual admissions offices' budgets of these schools come in under these amounts garnered from rejected applicants, in some cases, well under those numbers. But that's just my unsubstantiated opinion. In any case, keep that in mind whenever your “C" high school student begins to be bombarded by marketing materials from the Ivy League and other elite institutions.

But, back to deposits …

We were talking about strategies. Some time ago, I posted an article that addressed so-called “double deposits." You may be wondering what that's all about. To refresh you, or to inform you, here's part of that article:


“… Along with your enrollment decision comes (in most cases) the enrollment deposit, which is usually in the neighborhood of several hundred dollars. Committing to enrolling by sending in a deposit has lead to some interesting (and controversial) strategizing by high school seniors and their families.

“The practice of so-called “double depositing" has become something of chess game. It has gained national exposure this past week in two prominent places. First, The Washington Post and, second, the College Confidential discussion forum. Here are some excerpts from both the Post article by Bruce Vinik and the CC forum's comments to help you tune in to what this movement is all about. Then, hopefully, you'll be able to form your own opinion about whether double depositing is a good or bad thing." …

Is it okay to double deposit at colleges?

Double depositing: Two words that strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned college admissions officers.

Now that high school seniors have received the news they have been anxiously awaiting for the last few months, the time has arrived for them to make one final decision.

If they have been fortunate enough to gain admission to more than one college, they must decide where they intend to spend the next four (or more) years. And that decision must be made by May 1st, the national reply date for all admitted students.

For many students, this is an easy decision; they have a clear first choice and know exactly where they want to go to college. To guarantee themselves a space at their favorite school, all they need to do is send a non-refundable enrollment deposit check. At some colleges this may be as little as $100, while at others it can be as much as $500 or $1,000.

For some students, the final choice is not so easy. They have two or three colleges that they are considering and aren't sure about what to do; they love all of their schools for different reasons. And though they re-visit their colleges and look to teachers and friends (and even parents) for guidance, they are racked by indecision. So what do they do? They postpone the inevitable by sending checks to two colleges – that is, they double deposit.

What many of these students and their parents don't know is that double depositing is a violation of their responsibilities as established by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). The reason many of them don't know they are in violation is that they have never heard about this or any other “responsibility" and have no idea who or what NACAC is. But students need to understand that double-depositing is wrong.

Colleges dislike double depositing because the practice creates an enormous amount of uncertainty about the size of their incoming freshman classes. They can't be certain about the number of students who are going to show up for the fall because they can't be certain that each student who has made a deposit will attend …


“Next, here are some sample comments from College Confidential forum posters who have read Vinik's article:

I find it ironic how colleges, through a “professional" organization, NACAC, tell us it is wrong to double deposit, because it makes things difficult for the college in managing enrollment!

When one considers how much spin is performed by colleges, some of which borders on dishonesty, it takes a tremendous amount of guts, IMHO, to hold our kids to standards not of their choosing.


Colleges go out of their way to paint a pretty picture on campus visits. They publish (via web, formerly in print) viewbooks and other materials to put their institution in the best possible light. Worse, they block the release of information, such as alcohol consumption, that would be very helpful for families in making a decision.

Then, they give our kids 30 days to make a decision, right at the time they're preparing for graduation, studying for AP exams and so forth.

The college's argument, of course, is that a kid has all year to explore and investigate one's options. But who can (or should?) invest great time exploring an option that might not even be available?

So, they make a “rule" that works for them, but not for us?

Am I alone in being troubled by this?


Not to mention the whole having to deposit before signing up for housing thing. In our experience this year, if you wait until the actual due date (May 1) for most schools, you will miss out on preferred housing. Sure you may have the luxury of time in choosing your college, only to finally select it and not have the benefit of the “top notch" housing which factored into your decision. Double depositing seems the only way to get around this. Add to this the fact that some Departmental Scholarships are not being awarded until later in April and, without knowing the $ to factor it in to your decision, you have almost no choice but to double deposit to hedge your bets.


Come on folks, it's integrity 101. You don't enter two binding employment contracts, you don't marry two women or men, you don't put two binding offers on a house — why the hell would you legally commit to two schools?

And what school would want a kid self-absorbed enough to do it.

When it comes to personal integrity, it does not matter how you “spin" all that is “wrong" with college conduct or any external entity. It is about who you are being inside your life and within your own choices. …


I'm amused by that CC poster's comment about integrity. My question is: Who's violating whose integrity? Is the accepted student's integrity on the low side, or is the college's? A matter for serious debate, I guess.

Which brings us back to waitlists. What about those applicants in purgatory, especially concerning their financial aid, if they are finally admitted? One clear-thinking College Confidential forum poster asks this incisive question:

“If a student is accepted from the waitlist, do they receive the same financial aid package that they would have received if initially accepted? Or, would the student expect to receive less aid in grants and more in loans/work-study?"

Check that thread for some varied answers. However, my personal opinion is that waitlisted applicants who have lobbied, sometimes incessantly, to get into a school will not receive the premium level of aid that those “first-wave" accepted applicants will. That's simply because, in my view, a waitlisted applicant is a backup unit, someone designated as a bed filler to be called upon to remedy a possible shortfall in enrollments.

Sorry to sound harsh, but it's a college-eat-college world out there these days and, to paraphrase Norm Peterson from Cheers, the admissions offices are wearing Milk Bone underwear.

So, wrapping up my little reminder/primer/opinion post here, I wish all you uncommitted high school seniors and parents the very best across the next 10 days. You're sitting at a very complex intersection and you need to look very carefully in all directions before pulling out into college traffic.

Bad metaphors aside, keep one thing in mind: Chances are good that even if you make the “wrong" decision, things will turn out to be “right" for you during your college years. I can't count all the times I've heard college sophomores and juniors say something along the lines of, “I can't believe how happy I am here. When I didn't get into [or was unable to afford] _____ , I though my world had gone dark. Was I ever wrong about that!"

Sometimes in life, the best things that come our way, arrive by happenstance. Remain flexible and get ready for four wonderful years!


Be sure to check out all my college-related articles on 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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