Are Waitlists Worth Waiting For?
In mid-winter, at least in those places that actually have winter, bleary-eyed admissions officers curse paper cuts as they thumb through thousands of applications to find the group of students who they hope will be their next freshman class. Some students will be exactly what they have always dreamed of, such as the classical trombone player majoring in thermodynamics and its intersection with kinetic theory. Some will be rejected because they do not have the right range of grades, scores, and perceived potential. Others will be added to the WAITLIST.
What is a waitlist and why does it exist?
Waitlists exist because a college or university has a specific number of students it would like for its freshman class. A small college might want 650 students while a large university might want 5.500. This incoming class should be the best possible mix of students. Too few students and classes are undersubscribed and the budget is in the red; too many students and there isn’t enough housing or class openings and the college may have to ask some students to wait until next year. Or it may cram them 4 into a 2-person room, extra chairs and desks in the back, overflow lecture hall viewing.
This is where the waitlist comes in, as a safety valve. If not enough students accept and apply, then waitlisted students are considered. If too many apply, which is more probable, then the waitlisters are out of luck. May 1st is the usual decision day for regular admission. Because the schools have to see how many students are enrolling in the college, waitlisted students may not hear until June or July.
Many colleges, especially highly selective ones are concerned about rankings. The lower their acceptance rate, the higher their ranking. However, these colleges need “yield” that is students who accept the offer of admission. Because so many students apply to 8 to 15 colleges, the yield issue becomes a huge one. At schools like Amherst the yield is around 30%, which means that they had to accept three students for every one that pays the deposit and shows up in Fall.
Who Gets on the Waitlist?
You might be surprised. Some schools will put high performing students on the list because they know these students have the broadest number of options and might decide to go elsewhere. They also know that many students apply to up to 15 schools. This affects the yield. Yield is the percentage of students who accept and enroll in a college. If not enough students accept, the college can say yes to the extraordinary student after the May deadline. This is a winning strategy for the school. That kid you heard of who plays the viola, is water polo captain, 8 APs and excellent GPA; schools might decide that he has lots of choices and College A may not be tops on his list. Therefore, they may waitlist him and see what happens.
Other schools put students who are a good fit, and might have gotten in any other year, on the waitlist. They want to hang on to the chance of enticing these students to their school if their numbers fall short. Grades and test scores aren’t the only factors. Schools want a variety of students from different places, genders, interests, etc. These change every year so what happens one year with a waitlist is not predictive of the future. Perhaps there are too many men and not enough women, too many local students and they want geographic diversity, too many engineering students, and so on.
Should a Student Wait for the Waitlist?
This is a question that each student should approach rationally, so here is some information to consider:
The deadline for accepting and making a deposit for college acceptance is May 1, well before mid-June when colleges turn to their waitlists.
Students should strongly reconsider and re-evaluate the schools they have been accepted to. It might be that the school that wants you is really the school you want to be attending.
If you are accepted from the waitlist you will forfeit the deposit you made back in May to the school whose enrollment offer you accepted. That amount could be $400 to $500.
Because waitlisted students are accepted later, there may be less financial and merit aid available since much of that is determined on a first come, first granted basis.
Be realistic about your chances of being accepted from the wait list. Stanford’s acceptance rate is 5%. One year they waitlisted 958 students and only admitted 7. That is .07%. The more highly selective and elite the school, the fewer the students admitted from the waitlist.
Look up the wait list statistics on BigFuture.collegeboard.org. Search for a college, and click on “Applying” to see the wait list statistics.
Being waitlisted is like being sucker punched in the face. It hurts and you didn’t see it coming. University Z kinda wants me, should I wait for them to make up their mind, or should I pay more attention to the schools that really want me, no wait-strings attached?
So Get Smart.
If you are waitlisted take a deep breath and really look at the other schools that have accepted you. Remember, where you go to college is less important than what you do when you get there.
Get Smart for College
Independent Educational Consultant
Jamie is a UCLA trained educational consultant