Ivey Files

March 18, 2011

Is It OK to Continue Lobbying a Law School After You've Put Down a Deposit Elsewhere?

I recently submitted a deposit and enrollment form at Columbia Law School. I was admitted towards the end of January but waited a bit to make a decision even though Columbia had been my top choice. I have since said "no" or withdrawn my application to every other school I applied to, except Harvard. About six weeks ago, Harvard sent me an e-mail telling me my application was "on hold" meaning they could accept, deny, or place me on their wait list anytime between now and theoretically the end of the summer. I decided to go ahead and submit the deposit to Columbia and wait for Harvard.

However, I recently told one of the professors who wrote me a recommendation of my decision to accept a seat at Columbia. I'm not sure if he understood me correctly when I said I accepted a seat (i.e. submitted an enrollment form); but he suggested that I send Harvard an e-mail/letter asking about any updates on my application and also letting them know that I have been accepted to both Columbia and UChicago. In my opinion, it is deceitful to send Harvard such an e-mail when I have already put down a deposit at another school, so ideally it would have been better for me to have done so before I submitted the deposit. Writing such a letter now would not be appropriate, at least from how I see it. However, I am not even sure how I would phrase/write such an e-mail or letter.

So I was wondering if you had any advice regarding 1) Whether it is even appropriate to write such a letter/e-mail at this point in time and 2) If so, how should this letter be phrased?  

Deposit deadlines are coming up, and hopefully many of you have offers in your pocket by now and are deciding where to make your deposit. At the same time, many of you are also still holding out hope for some other schools, so understandably you are wondering how to balance those things in an ethical way. Props for even raising the ethics question.

You've concluded that it would be "deceitful" and inappropriate to continue advocating for your admission to Harvard when you've already put down a deposit at Columbia. Unless you made specific promises to Columbia, I disagree. Here are three rules you can follow:

1. You are perfectly entitled to put down a deposit at one school while remaining in the running at other schools, unless the deposit school requires you to withdraw elsewhere (e.g. under an early decision offer, summer start offer, or a requirement that you withdraw from all other schools in order to reserve your spot).

2. If you are allowed to remain in the running under the terms of your offer and depsosit, you are perfectly entitled to continue advocating for your candidacy at those schools where you're still in the running.

3. If you are allowed to remain in the running elsewhere, you *should* continue advocating for your candidacy at schools from whom you would accept an offer (i.e. for whom you would turn down your deposit school).

Here is the current, official LSAC rule about deposits and when schools are allowed to treat them as binding:

Except under binding early decision plans, or for academic terms beginning in the spring or summer, no law school should require an enrollment commitment of any kind, binding or nonbinding, to an offer of admission or scholarship prior to April 1. Admitted applicants who have submitted a timely financial aid application should not be required to commit to enroll by having to make a nonrefundable financial commitment until notified of financial aid awards that are within the control of the law school.

So don't feel bad. In your case, I can assure you that Columbia has put plenty of people on its own waitlist with the expectation that those people are also going to put deposits down somewhere else in the meantime. Nobody could expect you to forego reserving a spot somewhere on the fairly small chance that you might get in somewhere else after the deposit deadline.

And unless you were accepted to Columbia under binding ED terms (unlikely, since you were admitted at the end of January), or Columbia required you to withdraw elsewhere in order to make your deposit (is that the case?), there is nothing "deceitful" about having put down a deposit at Columbia and continuing to update Harvard and advocating for your candicacy there. If you did promise Columbia to withdraw elsewhere, then you do need to withdraw your Harvard application.

Assuming you didn't make promises to withdraw, the more important question is whether this particular update to Harvard is likely to be effective. I'm not sure why your recommender thinks that getting into Columbia would sway the admissions decision at Harvard, but I doubt very much that that's the case. Harvard won't care that you've gotten into Columbia, so as a practical matter, there's not much to be gained by sending that update anyway.

Harvard is fully aware that deposit deadlines are rapidly approaching; it's fully aware that it still has a lot of final admissions decisions to make after that deadline (any school that hasn't made a final admissions decision before the deposit deadline is effectively putting you on a waitlist as of April 1, no matter what they're calling it); and it's fully aware that of course you're going to put a deposit down somewhere else. Where you put that deposit down doesn't matter a whole lot to Harvard, unless and until it wants to extend you an offer, in which case it will talk to you and pre-screen you at that time to find out how likely you are to ditch your deposit elswhere to move to Cambridge. At that point, all Harvard is going to care about is whether you are willing to accept a spot off the waitlist or not; they won't care a whole lot what school you're ditching for them.

Here's what they would care about while you're on their waitlist, for reasons I addressed in my earlier posting "Waitlists, and the Hell of Admissions Limbo": If you want to maximize your chances of getting in off the waitlist at Harvard or anywhere else, it helps to commit yourself: "If I receive an offer, I will happily accept." That's an update that any waitlist school will care about.

Here's a related question for you to ponder: Would you be willing to make Harvard that commitment to accept? Why are you staying in the running at Harvard?

I know a lot of applicants are thinking, "Duh, Anna, because it's Harvard!" But you said that Columbia had been your top choice. And they made you an offer! And you accepted! Woohoo! You should be celebrating and put the whole application process behind you. I know the lure of the Harvard name is a strong one, but that was true before too, when you had decided that Columbia was your first choice. What exactly has changed your mind?

I don't ask rhetorically. Maybe, for example, you thought Columbia was your first choice when your LSAT score was X and you didn't think you could get into Harvard, but then you got LSAT score Y, and suddenly Harvard become more of a contender. If you're willing to share why your school priorities changed late in the game, please do, because I'm curious.

If there's not a particular reason, I wonder if you're just creating extra stress and anxiety for yourself at this point. Are you having buyer's remorse? Are you giving into a very common fear of closing doors? (That can really mess with people's decision making.) If you're hanging onto your Harvard application just to see what happens, that seems like a lot of wasted energy and emotional bandwidth when you could be throwing yourself happily and unambivalently into your new Columbia community. You got into your first choice. You should be celebrating and moving on, unless something in your world has changed that now makes Harvard the better fit for you.

Any other readers out there with similar stories or their own observations? Please share!

Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book. Follow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey).