Prep Talk Blog > May 2010

Maybe you’re like Megan Jungwi. She’s a freelance writer with a passion for marine biology. She studied the subject while in college at the University of Chicago, and she wrote this article about the best marine biology schools in the U.S. 

So if you’re starting your own college search and are thinking of pursuing a marine biology degree, be sure to check out these institutions, listed in alphabetical order: 

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The May 1st Acceptance Deadline and ‘Melt’Like most admissions deans and directors, I spent most of last Saturday, the May 1st national enrollment confirmation day, tracking student commitments to my institution. For many years, May 1 (and subsequent days for postmarked postal mail) marked the end of admissions officers anxiety. We pretty much knew who was (and wasn’t) coming to our colleges and universities.

But not anymore.

Melting Enrollment Lists

This time of year, admissions e-lists are all talking about “melt,” or the number of students who commit to our institutions but never enroll. That number used to be fairly small -- mostly students who had major changes in their health, wealth or something like that. However, year by year that number has increased as more students and families commit to more than one institution.

Admissions officers wring their hands, calling families unethical and expecting guidance counselors to police the issue by withholding final transcripts.

About a year ago,I suggested college and universities accept, and even embrace, this double-depositing. I was pretty much flamed by a number of colleagues for the shocking concept. Here’s a sample of what I wrote:

“I really like when the argument gets all fired up as a debate on ethics. It seems particularly charming that the same universities that are sending massively manipulative marketing materials (oh how I love alliteration) and providing entirely opaque information on scholarship and financial aid policies [that] they manipulate behind the scenes, then call students unethical for not being able to make up their minds by May 1…. I know I’ll catch a lot (A LOT) of flack for this, but it isn’t unethical, it’s a purchasing decision (let the flack begin!). You can place deposits on any number of items (say a car, just to draw the comparison most likely to inflame my colleagues) and decide NOT to make that purchase without being in the least unethical, can’t you?”

That certainly unhinged people. 

I recognize that simply accepting multiple deposits from students is unlikely to be embraced by academia, although this is likely more out of economic interest than ethical principal. So this year, instead, I offer a few new suggestions to make the situation work for colleges and universities.

Make Double-Depositing Work for Educational Institutions

First, colleges and universities should significantly raise their deposit fees -- many have been stagnant for more than a decade while tuitions skyrocketed. With deposits such a small percentage of tuition, families can justify double-depositing.

If colleges and universities want guidance counselors to police families and stop them from double-depositing, than we need a mechanism to fairly and openly track late offers from colleges. 

Last year was unusual, but the reality is that colleges with deep pockets that are trying to make enrollment targets increasingly chase, beg, cajole and generally harass students who have already deposited at other institutions. This usually involves negotiating financial aid and scholarship packages -- and knowing this occurs, families are incentivized to play the game. Perhaps the May 1st deposit deadline could become a date for half-refunds, and June 1st could become the new final deposit date. Between the dates, colleges and universities can openly do all these things they try to do on the sly now, like renegotiating aid packages without academic or fiscal justification, promising better housing/orientation/classes to those who commit sooner, threatening to kick, scream and hold their breath, etc.

I’m sure admissions officers will cry that June 1 is far too late and this would become the Wild West instead of a carefully considered process of helping students find the best fit. News flash: Melt is growing because of OUR practices more than any change in ethics among students and families. If we can’t clean up those practices (and recent history says we either can’t or won’t), then let’s at least try to make the process more transparent. 

Be seeing you.

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Don Munce