Recently, I ran into a parent of a senior. (As in all small communities, there are no secrets- and what I do for a living is well known.)This parent Doris* and her student, Natasha* are not my clients, but she asked me for some advice about her daughter. You see, Natasha had applied to 9 schools, and had been waitlisted at 6 (a denial at 1 left her with 2 acceptances.) The student and her parents had no idea what to do… the May 1st deadline to commit to one of the two schools was quickly approaching and all of her waitlisted schools wanted to know if she would like to remain on the list.
“Should we stay on the lists and hope one of those schools pulls through, or should we just send a deposit to one that she is already admitted? We are just not sure.” Doris asked.
In many cases, a waitlisted student will sit and wait for the call that will never come, and if it does, it can add complications and additional heartbreak.
Colleges and Universities use waitlists in many ways:
1. To soften the blow for students who did not meet the academic standards of admission but have a connection to the school through Alumni, admissions, or development. These students will not be the ones called if a place opens up. The chances of them being admitted off the waitlist are quite slim.
2. Schools can use waitlists to judge demonstrated interest in their applicants who may be at the bottom of their admissions percentages. It’s a little like having your best friend ask to take you to prom if no one else asks- a little pathetic on their part and frustrating on yours- no firm plans and not really what you had envisioned.
3. Waitlists can help a school which does not meet its yield for it freshman class, bolster its enrollment without damaging its reportable score ranges or GPAs of admitted students. (These students were not admitted, so the school can withhold reporting their scores etc.) In other words, if a school thinks that 50% of its admitted students will attend, and only 40% commit, the school can go to the waitlist to meet the class numbers.
4. Schools look to those on the waitlist who can pay full ride and offer a talent or ability in short supply at that particular school. In other words, if you are a tuba playing son of a hedge fund manager on the waitlist, and suddenly in July, the band is in need of a tuba player…you may get a call.
5. To replace demographic shortfalls in their yield for their classes, again, if too many young women commit, and the school needs more young men, then they will go to the waitlist if need be. This means that none of the women on the waitlist will get consideration, which brings me to my final point.
6. Waitlists are not lists. They are a pool of applicants from which the admissions officers can pick and choose. There is no “number 1” on the list- no first, no last. It is just a group of students from which the admissions office can choose for many different, and seemingly random, reasons.
Do I have a Chance?
Although many will see that being placed on the waitlist means they have a chance at admission, for most, it means they do not. Very few students gain admission off waitlists. At MIT last year, 555 students were placed on the waitlist. 28 were given a place in the freshman class. That’s just about 5%. In 2013, Boston University placed over 5000 applicants on their waitlist; they admitted less than 70- a miniscule 1%. Given these statistics, the chances of any student, however well qualified, being plucked from the waitlisted pool of applicants is slim; infinitesimal, in fact.
But I Could Get Financial Aid
To add insult to injury, many schools offer NO FINANCIAL AID to those students coming off the wait list. That’s right, NONE. ZERO.ZILCH. NADA. Although student loans are guaranteed to all students whose parents qualify, many schools offer no institutional aid- grants, tuition discount, or scholarship- to those who are the last to the admitted student party. Some do this for just the freshman year, and some will not guarantee any aid at all for the entire 4 years enrolled. This can mean that even if Natasha beats the odds and gains a place at one of her waitlisted schools, chances are, she will be unable to afford it and will decline.
The bright side of this equation is that Natasha has been admitted to two lovely schools. Both offers come with an admirable amount of scholarship and tuition discounts, making both schools not only good fits, but a good value. These are schools which want Natasha; schools where she will be a valued member of the community; schools which are a sure thing.
You Need to Move On
Doris and Natasha need to MOVE ON. Pick one of the two schools and send in their deposit, order the tee shirt, update her Facebook status, tweet, and instagram “XXXX COLLEGE Class of 2019.” Natasha needs to stop thinking about the “what-ifs” and “what-could-have-beens” and start planning for 4 years at a college which valued her in the admissions process. Natasia needs to look forward to her future and not dwell in the recent past. Natasia needs to commit.
Because really, the worst part about being on a waitlist is not being able to fully commit to a school from the beginning of May. Natasha needs to start thinking of herself as a part of a class, a community, a college. She cannot hold out for another school without lessening the joyous experience being part of an admitted class brings. She cannot think of making friendships at one school, if she is pining for ones at another. She cannot be a Lion, or a Buckeye, or a Patriot, Devil, Husky, or Gopher without thinking about being disloyal to another team and mascot. My bottom line? Waitlists steal your college commitment joy.