The Ethics of College Deposits

Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

The typical college decision deadline is May 1. Some students delay decision-making by putting down more than one deposit. This lesson discusses the ethics of college deposits, and the use of 'double deposits.'

College Decision Day

May 1 is a stressful day for many high school seniors! It is college decision day, when most colleges and universities expect incoming freshmen to reply with their admission decisions. In order for a student to accept an offer of full-time admission, that student must submit a nonrefundable college deposit. The deposit applies toward the student's tuition fee once that student enrolls. Deposit amounts vary between colleges, but typically run between $50 and $500.

Decision day is just around the corner, and Caitlyn still cannot decide between her two favorite colleges! Fortunately, she's been accepted to both. But Caitlyn is looking for a way to postpone her final decision while she revisits both colleges over the summer.

Finn is in a similar situation. He's been accepted to his state university, and also to his favorite private college. He's still negotiating financial aid offers. If the finances work in his favor, he is planning to accept admission to the private college. Since he doesn't have his final offers, he's looking for a way to postpone his admissions decision.

And then there's Walter. Walter's been accepted to his second choice university, but waitlisted at his first choice. Walter wants to remain on the waitlist to see if he can get in, without giving up his spot at his second choice. He's afraid he might end up without a spot at either college. He's looking for a way to postpone his admissions decision.

Double Deposits

Caitlyn, Finn and Walter might be tempted to double deposit. Double depositing is putting down a college deposit at more than one college. When a student double deposits, that student accepts full-time admission to more than one college. Remember, a deposit is an acceptance. The student is telling the college he or she will enroll at that college.

Of course, an incoming student cannot realistically attend both colleges on a full-time basis. That's why double depositing is considered unethical in most cases. In fact, only one of our high school seniors can acceptably commit double depositing. Can you guess which one?

It's Walter. Since Walter's admission to his first choice college (College A) is contingent upon him being removed from the waitlist, he is allowed to place a 'waitlist' deposit at College A. This deposit allows Walter to remain on that list in case spots become available. In the meantime, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) recommends that Walter accept admittance to his second choice college (College B) by submitting a college deposit to College B.

However, if Walter is notified that he has been accepted to College A, he must immediately notify College B in writing. If Walter allows his deposits to remain at both colleges, after having a guaranteed spot at each college, he is committing an unethical form of double depositing. Walter will not receive a refund from College B, but he does need to release his spot.

Double Depositing & Students

Caitlyn and Finn, on the other hand, should not double deposit. The NACAC considers their scenarios to be unethical uses. Double depositing to extend time for a decision - even when that decision involves a financial aid offer - negatively affects students.

Since the student will only attend one of the colleges, the student will forfeit the deposit at the other college. This is the most obvious negative effect for a student like Caitlyn or Finn.

But, keep in mind, that a deposit is an acceptance. 'Double acceptance' is dishonest. Some colleges even look at it as fraud, and reserve the right to rescind an admission offer if they find the student made another deposit. If you submitted the Common Application, then you agreed to this term.

How do colleges know a student double deposited? Current admissions procedures make it obvious. For example, high school guidance counselors are required to send a final transcript to the student's college choice. Which college will Caitlin select to receive the one, official transcript from her high school? Also, many colleges use software and database systems that share information about prospective college students, including their admissions decisions.

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