Is It OK to Put Down Multiple Deposits?

I've received a few follow-up questions in response to my recent blog post on managing multiple waitlist offers: Is it really not OK to put down multiple deposits? Is there a rule about that? And how would anyone know, anyway?

Those aren't bad questions, not least because LSAC has danced around the subject for years, and tends to bury its official (and vague) position out of plain sight. They don't cover deposits of any kind in their current LSAC Rules Governing Misconduct and Irregularities in the Admission Process, for example. Or at least that I can tell.

They do cover it, indirectly, in their manual governing law school admissions offices, aka their Statement of Good Admission Practices, aka LSAC Statement of Good Admission and Financial Aid Practices. That manual is not actually directed at you, the applicants, but rather at the law schools. And they don't make it terribly easy to find. If you type "multiple deposits" into the search box on the LSAC site without quotation marks, the PDF shows up in the search results; if you type it in with quotation marks to search for that precise term, nothing at all comes up. You can also usually get there from the LSAC homepage if you click on the Resources tab, and then look under Publications. Here's the relevant bit from the 2011-12 PDF:

After April 1, except under binding early decision plans, every accepted applicant should be free to accept a new offer from a law school even though a scholarship has been accepted, a deposit has been paid, or a committment [sic] has been made to another school. To provide applicants with an uncoerced choice among various law schools, no excessive nonrefundable deposit should be required solely to maintain a place in the class.... A law school should clearly communicate its policies on multiple enrollment commitments upon admission.

Sticklers (and born-to-be-lawyer types) will note the phrase "... or a commitment has been made to another school." Are you not free to put down more than one deposit for existing offers (i.e. ones that aren't "new")? Is it implied that you'd have to withdraw the previous ones? Is a deposit a "commitment"? Not when you're free to back out of it, I would think, even if you risk losing your money. (Perhaps the closest analogy is to earnest money when you're buying a piece of real estate, but that's not a life experience too many law school applicants have had yet.) Argh, lots to puzzle through. And then, after all that, LSAC punts the issue to the individual law schools in that last sentence anyway. Is this another question on the LSAT? Sheesh.

It shouldn't be that hard to figure out what the official LSAC position is, but there you go. I'm not sure there is one, except perhaps that they discourage the practice, which is not the bright-line guidance one might hope for. The bottom line is that if LSAC wanted to ban multiple deposits, it could do so expressly (which it hasn't), and schools can do so individually if they like. So make sure you scrutinize the language of your offer letters. If there's no express ban on multiple offers, then you should be in the clear, at least where the official rules are concerned.

However... even if the practice is not prohibited outright, schools still frown on it, as I wrote last week. And by "frown," I mean that they really HATE the practice, because it messes up all their planning for the incoming class and stretches out the waitlist timeline, which in turn makes applicants miserable, too.

So here's the rule I would apply: Ideally, you wouldn't put down multiple deposits unless you have good reason to. Example: Your wife is waiting to hear back on her business school applications, and the two of you will be coordinating grad school locations. Or maybe you're still waiting to hear about a financial aid determination before accepting an offer. Those are good reasons in my book, because in both scenarios you still need an important piece of information to make the best decision for you.

What's not a good reason? Here's the most common: because you just can't decide. You've gotten into this school in New York, and that school in California, and this other school in Chicago, and boy is it hard to make up your mind, and gosh all three places might be interesting to live in.

But think back to when you submitted those applications in the first place. Did you really have no idea at all what your hierarchy of preferences was? Did you pick the schools out of a hat? Have you not given this decision any thought between now and then? You've had a lot of time to think about it, and it's time to pick a horse. Unless there is still a meaningful piece of information that you don't have yet, and that you need in order to make an informed decision, the choice isn't going to get any easier. It's time to make it, and to put down one deposit. If you want to pursue waitlists after you've put down your one deposit somewhere, that's standard practice, and perfectly fine (that's the "new offer" language in the LSAC rule above). But in the meantime, you should be able to figure out your first choice among the offers that you already have.

As to the question "How will they know, anyway," the answer is: Starting in less than a month (on May 15), LSAC starts sending law schools what are called "Overlap Reports," where admissions officers can see how many people who are (ostensibly) in their incoming class have made multiple deposits, and where they've made those deposits. Do you really want to get phone calls from those schools? You're likely going to end up at one of them, and that would not be getting off to a good start. Better to bite the bullet now, and be happy that you have these choices. The Germans have a great expression: Die Qual der Wahl, the agony of choice. Yes, it is agony, but isn't it a good kind of agony? Would you rather a school be assigned to you randomly? Didn't think so. Embrace the awesomeness of having done your best, gotten your results, and choosing a school. (Or choosing not to go to law school at all, if the results don't make law school worth it for you. That's OK too.)

What do you think? Am I being too harsh? And am I overlooking some other place where LSAC lays down the law for applicants with respect to multiple deposits? Do you have some more examples of good reasons? Please chime in.

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), or come introduce yourself and join the conversation on Facebook.