April 25, 2009
I agree that May 1 is too soon for many students to make a realistic decision. This year in particular, many are still waiting for financial aid appeals to be resolved. However, double-depositing is considered unethical, and I have known of students who got "caught" by the colleges in question and had their acceptances rescinded by both.
Your best bet is thus to make one deposit for sure, and then ask the other school where you are undecided if you can have an extension so that they don't give your spot away. For instance, since you say that you will only go to the public university if you get into the honors program, you can ask for an extension there. Tell them that you will definitely enroll if you get the green light on the honors program (if, in fact, you will).
Although you can do this by telephone for expediency sake, if you get an okay on the extension, be sure to ask for the name, title, and email address of the person who granted the extension. Then tell him or her that you will send a follow up email and would like a reply to it so that you can have written confirmation.
If you want, you can try getting an extension at both of the colleges that you're deciding between, so that you don't have to send any deposit by May 1. However, do note that most colleges will not grant extensions unless there are extenuating circumstances (e.g. a death in the family) and not because you are waiting to hear from another school.
If you do manage to wangle an extension from one or more of the colleges on your list, make sure that you not only get it in writing (as suggested above), but also be clear on whether or not there's a specific date by which you must commit. Don't assume that the extension is open-ended. Ask the college when the new deadline will be.
When making a deposit at one college while waiting to hear from a another school, you must expect to lose that deposit if the waitlist college eventually says yes, and you decide to matriculate there. It is not unscrupulous to withdraw your enrollment when you get admitted elsewhere from a waitlist, but don't expect to get your deposit dough back either.
Note also that, at some schools, late depositors may lose out on housing options. So even if an extension can save you a spot in the class, it may also leave you with a just spot for a sleeping bag on the student-lounge floor. :(
Yes, of course, there are plenty of applicants who do double-deposit and will get away with it, but it's a very slippery slope and one that we do not recommend for both ethical and pragmatic reasons.
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