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Business School Deposit Deadlines: Decisions? Dilemmas? Do Tell!

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The time has come for many Round 1 applicants to make a decision about where they will attend business school in the fall. Monday was the Round 1 deposit deadline at Harvard Business School (HBS), and tomorrow deposits are due at Chicago Booth, Duke’s Fuqua School, Northwestern’s Kellogg School, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Yale School of Management.

For many, plunking down the cash to indicate to a school that you can’t wait to join their MBA class is as straightforward as it can be. No doubt there are quite a few triumphant applicants to HBS who sent in their $1,000 payments on Monday—or before—with glee. If you were gunning for HBS all along, getting the news you’d been accepted was possibly one of the happiest days of your life, and making your first payment felt like an unequivocal investment in your future.

For others, though, having to actually pull the trigger can cause some cognitive dissonance. “You’ll find some applicants saying, ‘S*&!, now I need to invest $200K…with significant opportunity cost. Is it really worth it?’” notes Clear Admit’s Alex Brown, who saw some of this when he worked in admissions at Wharton. Indeed, coming face to face with the reality of two years of lost income on top of already steep tuition fees is enough to give anyone pause. Weighing this personal investment against the long-term pay out—both professionally and personally—is an important process for all prospective business school students. Some will have conducted complete return-on-investment (ROI) calculations before even applying, but for others, this step comes later. “Before this time, all their energy was focused on getting into the best school they could, but now some of that energy is focused on how they will pay for it,” Brown says.

Deposits to Hedge Your Options?

Let’s say, though, that you applied to HBS, Chicago Booth and Wharton, but only Chicago Booth guaranteed you a seat in its Class of 2018, with HBS and Wharton putting you on the waitlist. Here’s where things can get tricky. Should you put down $3,000 at Chicago Booth to reserve your spot, even when you’re holding out hope that HBS or Wharton will accept you off the waitlist? (NB: The deposit at Booth is broken into two payments, one part due when you accept and a second later in the process.)

Faced with this scenario, many applicants will simply deposit at one school while waiting to hear from the school they want to attend more, forgoing the earlier deposit if they do indeed get in, Brown says. “Schools know this,” he adds. For some applicants, this is absolutely worth the potential loss of a few thousand dollars.

You could also ask for a deposit extension, although it’s rarely granted, Brown says. “Some will ask for family reasons—say, you’re waiting for a partner to get a decision on his or her career or school,” he offers. “That, of course, is dishonest if the real reason is that you are waiting for HBS.” But deposit extension requests that are genuine—and for a reason other than hedging your options—are more likely to work, he adds.

In some cases, an applicant will request a deposit extension because he or she hopes to attend admit weekends at multiple schools to truly assess their fit within the culture. “There is no risk to requesting a deposit extension,” Brown says. “If the request is denied, then you simply pay your deposit.” (It’s not like a school can rescind an offer because you asked for more time to make a decision.)