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Are You Being Pressured to Send a Deposit Before May 1?

Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone Posts: 2,475CC Admissions Expert Senior Member
From stories I'm hearing and from "Ask the Dean" queries I'm receiving, I fear that a growing number of students and parents are being pressured by colleges to send a deposit before the May 1 deadline. Although families are often clearly told that these deposits are "refundable" until May 1 (and they are), they are also being told that the student's space in the class may evaporate without this early commitment.

Sending a refundable deposit is sometimes just a minor hassle UNLESS the student is getting this same pressure from more than one college. In such cases, the parents are asking me, "Is it unethical to send multiple deposits if we plan to withdraw all but one by May 1?"

But this is a question that families shouldn't have to ask. Colleges that subscribe to the Candidate's Reply Date Agreement (which is most but not all) are not allowed to demand a deposit --refundable or not--before May 1. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) urges parents in this position to report offenders to their school counselors or directly to NACAC.

Note, however, that the May 1 deadline does not apply to Early Decision candidates or to many recruited athletes. But for most other students who are receiving college verdicts now, but who want to see all admission offers (and aid awards) before making a final choice, please be aware that colleges MUST hold your place until May 1, regardless of the threats that they may be issuing.
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Replies to: Are You Being Pressured to Send a Deposit Before May 1?

  • InigoMontoyaInigoMontoya Posts: 405Registered User Member
    Many schools won't tell you you'll lose your slot, but they'll use other means of pressure. Assigning housing based on receipt of deposit, so if you wait until May 1 you get the crappy dorm. Or holding a spring orientation only for students with paid deposits, where they meet with advisors and get a jump on registration over students who haven't deposited yet so won't get orientation until summer. Nothing that violates the letter of the law, but definite pressure.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Posts: 11,265Registered User Senior Member
    edited February 13
    Housing deposits are entirely separate from registration deposits and I think families get confused and think they are putting in an admissions deposit when what they are doing is holding a dorm room.

    I also do not believe there is a "law" that says universities cannot try at least to lock in the sale even if there is a handshake association agreement that says colleges and unis can't REQUIRE registration deposits. Clearly kids WANT to attend the colleges they apply to...correct? So the college that accepts the student presumes the student wanted to attend enough to send in an application can send in a deposit and lock in the acceptance. I know that at both our flagships waaaay more kids apply than can possibly attend so the more kids they can figure out are really going to show up in the fall, the easier it is to deal with the kids that have been deferred or waitlisted. Housing is in short supply and generally freshman are taken care of before upper classes so I can certainly understand why housing would want a refundable deposit ASAP separate from the registration deposit so they can turn to returning students and get them slotted in, housing can always backfill rooms that kids decide at the last minute not to use. If unis and colleges want to reward the kids who apply, and accept quickly with a special orientation or early registration I see nothing wrong with that either. Why shouldn't you reward kids that apply, get accepted, pay deposit...that's a good customer. I see nothing wrong with any of this to be honest.

    I think it would be interesting if the people saying they are "being pressured to put down a registration deposit" are talking about large universities, or really it was a dorm deposit request or if these are small privates that are shaky about their enrollment and trying to fill a class. Too many variables to understand what is really going on.

    What is totally unethical to me is a family holding TWO deposits simultaneously. Put one desposit in at one college and request the refund if the student changes their mind or some phenomenal finaid offer too good to pass up comes through and the student wants to enroll at a different college. There's a difference between colleges trying to close a deal with one student and a family playing a game with two colleges by holding two spots...
    Post edited by momofthreeboys on
  • 3monkeys3monkeys Posts: 5Registered User New Member
    My daughter's first choice school is doing this - holding early orientation and housing requests. I don't like it at all, it leaves a negative impression for me.
  • mathmommathmom Posts: 22,910Registered User Senior Member
    I think that giving better housing to kids who commit early is unethical. My son was not able to visit U of Chicago early while others may have financial issues to consider. I gave the housing office an earful about their lousy policy, but I don't believe it changed. I'm not a big fan of any kind of preferential housing (paying more for suites etc.) which I think tends to divide the class into the haves and have-nots.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Posts: 11,265Registered User Senior Member
    My daughter's first choice school is doing this

    Turn it around and think about - you just said it's her first choice college. Presumably she's been accepted. Theoretically there is no reason why she couldn't commit and be rewarded in some small way for signing on the dotted line. I'm guessing you are waiting to see if someone else gives you a better deal - and to that I would say that is your decision to make but it doesn't mean that a college is going to sit back and treat someone who waits to commit at the last minute - even though they have a right to wait until the last minute - the same way that a college might treat someone who makes the commitment right away after acceptance. It's a straightforward transaction..no more, no less and it continues on...kids that have it together and register for classes as soon as they can get the better sections...kids who wait until the last minute will get classes but it might not be just the way they want it to be or just the classes they want.
  • JCCsMomJCCsMom Posts: 240Registered User Junior Member
    Most of the schools my S applied to and was accepted to so far require an enrollment deposit to hold housing. They are not separate, but one and the same. You cannot get housing until you put the enrollment deposit down. So if you wait to hear the rest of the RD acceptances in late March/early April, you've missed your chance to get housing if you don't put a deposit down. I do wish that all schools had the same dates for signing up for housing. That would be more fair for those who want to hear the rest of their acceptances before deciding.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Posts: 11,265Registered User Senior Member
    No I'm saying it is unethical to deposit at TWO colleges simultaneously. I think it's fine if a family wants to wait until April to compare financial aid offers to choose the lowest price offer...that is certainly the family's decision. Again you the family are waiting to see if the college is going to "sweeten" the pot with more tuition discount than was determined using the COA calculator but why should that mean everyone has to wait until April to commit and why shouldn't a college be able to sweeten the pot alittle in their own way for those students who do commit?
  • InigoMontoyaInigoMontoya Posts: 405Registered User Member
    But why shouldn't a family be able to deposit at a school they know they can afford, and yet also deposit at their dream school while waiting to hear if they've won a scholarship? Most COA calculators do NOT factor in merit aid - especially when it is merit aid determined by a competition weekend - there's NO way to know in advance if that money will be awarded. So according to your rules, a student should only deposit to a school they KNOW they can afford, and then if they win a scholarship, withdraw the deposit and deposit late at the school they really want to attend? Why is that more ethical than depositing at both schools, and then withdraw once you know the full financial picture? If, as I said above, everyone knew the final COA when asked to deposit I wouldn't mind. But if a school hasn't yet told you what it will cost, then I don't see a problem with conditionally sending in the deposit. If the schools have a problem with that, they can make the deposit non-refundable.
  • momofthreeboysmomofthreeboys Posts: 11,265Registered User Senior Member
    Correct, deposit at the school that the family can afford and if by chance the financial aid letter has enough grant money to make the other school affordable request a refund from the original college and deposit at the "new college"...really straight forward. Deposits are how colleges and universities "count" their freshman class...for schools with kids on waiting lists it is unethical to hold onto a place that isn't going to be used which is what happens if you've told two colleges you are going to attend. It's not illegal....it's unethical to hold 2 spaces.

    Using a hail mary in search of the best deal is certainly one approach to finding a college but it's not the only approach and there is plenty of intel available to estimate what a finaid package is going to be. And plenty of schools "publish" the qualifications for merit based scholarships. Now I would say that if a student is in the running for one of the big interview scholarships that might be reason to deposit at the school the family can afford and ask for a deposit refund if the "big one" comes through. Every college looks for socio-economic diversity so every college is going to have kids that are full pay and kids that are on scholarship and a whole bunch that are somewhere in between and holding a dorm space so you don't end up tripled is a financial drop in the bucket in regard to total college costs and in almost all cases fully refundable.
  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone Posts: 1,325Registered User Senior Member
    If the colleges don't want you to pay a deposit and then back out, they can make the deposits bigger and not refundable. Airlines do that with tickets because people used to book 3-4 tickets, hotel rooms, rental cars and just cancel what they didn't want (or not cancel!). Now there are penalties.

    Where does it say it isn't allowed to pay two housing deposits? Why can't you get in line for the better dorms with a deposit? The others have the same option, don't they?

    IMO, it is worse for people to apply to 25 schools and not withdrawing any of them until May (or just let the acceptance expire), keeping people who don't care where their dorm is waiting.
  • PetraElisePetraElise Posts: 370Registered User Member
    edited February 13
    I don't see a problem with depositing at two schools, anymore than I see a problem with applying to a half dozen. The schools that are pressuring students in this way know that they are trying to skirt the May 1st deadline, that's why the deposits are refundable. The application and admission process is full of multiple submissions. The schools accept more students than they know they can actually admit, and students apply to more than one college -- where is that any different than depositing at more than one school? So what happens if a school accepts 4000, has space for 2000, and gets 3000 students filing deposits on May 1st? It's all a numbers game to an extent, and refundable deposits are just one of the tools -- for both schools and students
    Post edited by PetraElise on
  • SomeOldGuySomeOldGuy Posts: 1,353Registered User Senior Member
    No I'm saying it is unethical to deposit at TWO colleges simultaneously.

    Hogwash. If second-tier colleges want to approach enrollment management like used car salesmen, then we as consumers are completely within our rights to keep our purchase options open until the generally accepted final purchase decision date of May 1st. "refundable deposits" are just earnest money -- no more, no less. But I can see how they would be a real burden on lower income families. (FWIW, I was shocked last year to learn that my son's ED school still didn't require a deposit until May 1st, and they don't even take housing requests until June.)
  • Bigdaddy88Bigdaddy88 Posts: 639Registered User Member
    edited February 14
    Hogwash indeed! When a 17 year old revives a letter stating that housing is first come first served they naturally worry that they will end up in a crappy dorm if they wait to deposit. To me, it is unethical for these schools to use intimidation tactics. My D would love to attend all the schools she's been accepted to. Should she send in 6 deposits to ensure a decent dorm? Of course not.
    Post edited by Bigdaddy88 on
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