When to Accept the College Offer: Why You Should Play Hard to Get

accepting offer wait

It’s April. You’ve received multiple acceptance letters from universities, maybe even one from your dream school. You know May 1st is national college decision day but you can’t wait to send in that deposit check (or, more likely, enter your credit card number online). Just put this whole college search process to bed! Just accept a college admissions offer! But wait! Don’t accept that college admission offer quite so fast — at least not if you’re interested in making sure you’re doing everything you can to maximize your scholarship potential! Here’s why…

Yield… Again

In my first article, What Is Yield? Inside The College Admissions Process,” I described what “yield” is in detail, and some of the math involved with enrolling a new class. Yield, or how many students accept their offers of admission, is a very stressful time for counselors. Using my previous example, say Dreamschool University wants to enroll 500 freshmen in August. There will be years, in mid-to-late April, where 500 students have already accepted their offer, and the admissions office is simultaneously patting itself on the back and also crossing their fingers that no one else will deposit. The beds are full!  

However, in other years, late April rolls around and only 350 students have accepted their offer of admission. The admissions office is scrambling at this point. They’re nervous they won’t “make their class,” as it’s called, and they’d prefer to not use the waitlist because nothing publicly screams “we didn’t hit our target” like going to the waitlist (sorry, waitlist students!)  They’d rather reach that magical yield target behind the scenes, without having to extend additional offers to students on the waitlist.

They often do this by rolling out the red carpet. They’ll try wooing those who already have an offer and just haven’t made a final decision yet. They court those playing hard to get. They’ll have their data person run a list of only those students who were offered admission but who have not yet accepted the offer or withdrawn their application. They’ll probably put together a calling campaign and have current students call and try to convince you to go ahead and accept the offer. They might have a professor reach out.

Money Is Money

But ultimately, admissions offices know that money talks. They know the best way to achieve their target of 500 if they’re coming up short towards the end of the month is to offer additional scholarships to anyone left on that list.

RELATED: Operation Varsity Blues: How the College Admissions Scandal Will Hurt All Students

You might be wondering how this extra money just appears for colleges to award, right? Well, in many cases it was always there. If you read your offers carefully, most included directions to let the college know if you’ve chosen to attend elsewhere, and some of your friends do that. Some of those friends had also been awarded scholarships. If more of those friends than predicted turn down the offer (and, subsequently, the scholarship), that’s extra money that can now be awarded. It always existed … it just didn’t exist for you.

But, hey, money is money.

Is This Foolproof?

In other cases, colleges actually just keep some discretionary scholarship dollars available precisely for this scenario – to help yield students in years where the deposits are coming in slower than predicted. They were hoping to not have to spend it, but no such luck.

Does waiting guarantee you’ll get more money? Absolutely not. Does it increase your chances? Yes, but there are a lot of “it depends” in the scenario. You don’t know if your school is one that’s running ahead of their target or behind their target as they approach national college decision day. And no, they won’t share that information. You don’t know if your school has discretionary funds or not. But the bottom line is that waiting until closer to May 1st might ultimately land you with a larger scholarship offer than what you may have originally received. If you want to know you’ve done everything possible to maximize your chances of earning scholarships then you need to play hard to get.

A few last words of caution: Read the information you receive from institutions carefully. While it’s in poor taste, some institutions will tie a better room assignment or earlier course registration to an earlier acceptance of the offer of admission. If this describes your institution, then you’ll need to make decisions about what’s more important to you. Is it the chance of a better room or the chance of more money?

Lastly, and most importantly, under no circumstances should you wait until after May 1st to deposit. Remember the school that already had their 500 by mid-April? If you tried to deposit there at 12:01AM May 2nd, there’s a good chance that your offer is no longer valid. Deadlines are deadlines. There’s nothing wrong with waiting until the deadline, but don’t miss it.


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