Waitlisted…the purgatory of college admission decisions

Posted on April 20th, 2018 to Admission Decisions by

I have shared insight about the meaning behind different early admission decisions, but not regular admission decision. Frankly, much of what I wrote then holds true for regular decision admission decisions. That is, except for the waitlist decision. Being waitlisted can often feel like the purgatory of college admission. It’s not quite a yes; nor is it really a no; and a student may remain in this limbo through the summer. To make matters worse there is a concern that schools are waitlisting an increasing number of students, making it an even more competitive process to be accepted off the waitlist. So I think having a proper frame by which a student and family can interpret the waitlist decision can provide some clarity on how best to react and respond to the decision.

Despite the increasing number of waitlist decisions, the intention behind the waitlist remains the same. Schools rely heavily on historical data and metrics to predict their enrollment for the current admission cycle. Simply put, they compare the current number of students who have deposited with the number of students who have deposited for the past few years. If they notice that not enough students are depositing, schools will start to go to their waitlist. At the end of the day, schools are trying to get a certain number of students to enroll and the waitlist is their security measure to ensure they meet their goal.

So how does one end up on the waitlist? Well, that depends on a variety of factors:

  • Competitiveness of the overall applicant pool
  • Competitiveness of the major you applied to (if you applied to a specific program or major)
  • The strength of your qualities and of your application

Woah, wait…what?! The strength of your qualities and your application. What does that mean?? I assure you, despite the media report that schools are waitlisting more students than they should and my acknowledgement that the waitlist is a school’s enrollment safety net, you would not have been waitlisted if the admission committee did not think you were prepared to be successful at their school. Remember the school might still accept you off of the waitlist; they wouldn’t want to accept a student who is a poor fit to attend their institution. If a student isn’t prepared, or has not put forth a solid application, or just isn’t an overall good fit for admission, s/he is going to be denied.

So now that we have framed what being waitlisted means, let’s talk about next steps.

  1. The first task is to accept the school’s waitlist offer…that is if you want to go to the school. If you are happy with one of the other schools you were admitted too, then go there. There’s no need to move on in this process. If you really want to go to a school you were waitlisted at, then here’s what to do next.
  2. Once you have accepted the waitlist offer, check in with the admission office regularly to update them on both your interest in attending and any new accolades you can brag about. I recommend finding a balance in frequency and tone–brag humbly and only check-in once a week or so.
  3. Visit…if you can. I know this isn’t feasible for every student and family. That said a visit can be a powerful way to show your interest. It is also an opportunity to update the school like I suggest above in bullet point 2; the only difference is you’re doing it in-person, and that can have a powerful effect. If you can’t afford to visit, see if the admission office will be visiting near where you live/attend school. If they are, ask if you can meet up with the representative who will be traveling to your area.
  4. Regardless of wanting to attend a school who waitlisted you, you must deposit at a school you have been accepted to by May 1, the commitment deadline. Even if a school does go to their waitlist it may not be until after the deposit deadline. So you want to be sure you have a school to go to in the fall. If you are accepted off the waitlist after May 1, be sure to ask if the school will credit or waive the deposit, since you have already deposited at another school.
  5. CRUSH SENIOR YEAR! At the end of the day you still need to perform well. As I have said before, “the admission gods giveth and taketh away”. Grades are as much a part of a school’s decision to offer admission as everything else. Additionally, it can be a great way to show a school who waitlisted you that you are serious about going to their school.

Now let’s get real for a second. Is this a guarantee that you will be accepted off the waitlist? No. Unfortunately there are still a lot of factors out of your control that will ultimately determine if a school goes to their waitlist and if you are accepted. However, this strategy will position you better than anything else. Usually when a school decides to go to the waitlist admission officers are able to make recommendations to the Dean/Director/VP. The above strategy will allow you to remind the school you are serious, develop an advocate in the office, and show the school you are ready to enroll if they are ready to accept you.

A waitlist decision is never the goal, but it is not a bad place to be. If you have been waitlisted at your top choice, congrats and I wish you the best of luck in being admitted!

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