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The College Options Services Blog

College Admissions Agreements and Other Fairy Tales
By Andrew Flagel
Dean of Admissions - George Mason University
Post Date: 2/16/2011

Once upon a time, colleges and universities desperately wanted to be sure they admitted the right students for all the right reasons. They treated the students fairly, and respectfully gave them reasonable amounts of time to weigh their decisions.

Yeah, right.

The story should go more like this: Once upon a time, evil, manipulative wizard wannabes called “admission directors” realized that their jobs depended on the income generated from student tuition and the number of high-profile students they enrolled. These shrewd, crafty folks also recognized that they were much more likely to get the best students (roughly translated as wealthy and high-profile) if the students could be convinced to commit as early as possible to their institutions. This early commitment also allowed those schools to do better planning, which allowed them to please their kings -- I mean, college presidents -- with earlier projections of income and student profiles.

This process led to a kind of war where colleges and universities set earlier and earlier commitment dates (called deposit deadlines) by asking admitted students for money to secure a spot. They further hinted that without the deposit, that spot may just have to be given to some other deserving student. My intensive research into artifacts from the period, which I am entirely making up, indicates that approximately 64.789 percent of admitted students were, as a result, asked to commit to an institution at least three to four weeks before they had actually been admitted.

During this dark and evil time, a tiny light appeared. Well, to be more accurate, a dim light flickered. Most of these institutions reached an agreement that stated admitted students should have until May 1 of their senior year to make a decision on committing to an institution. This later deadline allowed students waiting on financial aid information (usually available by the start of April) or admissions decisions from really uptight institutions (a handful held decisions until April 1 – as if April Fools’ Day somehow created a positive impression) at least a few weeks to ponder options. At the same time, May, while late for many institutions, left a reasonable amount of time for schools to scramble to make sure they had enough professors, beds in dorms, and cheap logo-laden giveaway items for orientation.

Unfortunately, pretty much as soon as this glorious agreement was reached, the evil manipulative wizard wannabes started working their magic to find ways to bend, circumvent, or entirely break that agreement.

Many schools find perfectly reasonable justifications for dancing around this issue. They have limited beds on campus, are constrained on space, or have a very short supply of Beanie Babies bearing the school logo. As a result, colleges and universities go to all kinds of lengths to get you to commit much earlier than May 1, while still APPEARING to adhere to the agreement.


The result looks something like this: You receive a nice admissions letter congratulating you and encouraging you to deposit as soon as possible because “space is limited.” These often say that you CAN (could, might) wait until May 1, but THEN you PROBABLY will have the worst dorm room ever and a class schedule that requires waking up approximately three hours before you go to bed for classes that have absolutely nothing to do with your interests, major or requirements.

Some of the slightly less evil schools will mention that, although they want (insist, require) you to have your deposit in right away, that deposit is REFUNDABLE until May 1. Technically, that meets the stipulations of the agreement, but not the spirit. Others don’t even pretend to stick to the agreement.

There is a small glimmer of good news: You can fight back.

Most (but not all) schools will back down if you confront them with knowledge of the May 1 deadline agreement. If the school threatens to disadvantage you by having you come to the orientation scheduled at 3 am on July 4th just because you waited until the deadline, then let them know you are going to formally complain to NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, as well as your congressperson and, if you have access to him, Bono from U2. Be warned though, none of these tactics are likely to have a tremendous influence on the college admissions office, especially if they are not U2 fans.

The bottom line is that you SHOULD have until May 1 to make your decision. You SHOULD be able to take that time without being disadvantaged. You SHOULD have a reasonable expectation that admissions offices won’t resort to cheap, manipulative tactics in this process. Also, you SHOULD come to Mason. Send your deposit RIGHT NOW – space is limited.

Be seeing you.

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