Midway into the college decision-making month and some anxious high school seniors are still dreaming that the school they were waitlisted on, will decide to accept them before the May 1 deadline. Each year colleges and universities will put thousands of high school seniors on waitlists, but when it comes down to it, they end up accepting only a handful. The Washington Post published on Saturday, April 16, 2016, an article analyzing and revealing that for most colleges waitlist are a sham, that gives false hope, with many not accepting any students from their lists.
Waitlists serve universities far more than the students they place on them do. Colleges need to have a pool of possible extra students to fill up their incoming freshmen class in case there are not enough students deciding to enroll. This is particularly the case in specialty faculties and majors like nursing, engineering, business.
Each year schools are faced with a challenge there is an increase in the number applications while acceptance rates shrink. With a record number of applicants, universities and colleges are accepting fewer students, while rejections are also increasing. The gray area is the waitlist, a college’s safety net to ensure they fill their freshman class quota. Of all college applicants, 10 percent are finding themselves on a waitlist.
If a student is accepted from a waitlisted college, it becomes a domino effect. The student would have given their non-refundable deposit to a school with a lower national ranking, then when one of the more elite or exclusive school decides to accept this waitlisted applicant, they run and accept. The student decision to abandon the school they gave the deposit to, and accept the offer of admission from the school that waitlisted then leaves an enrollment gap that has to be filled and the school does so with their waitlisted applicants.
The waitlists, however, give high school seniors false hope that maybe they will be accepted causing more tension and in the end rejection. As the Washington Post noted, “Wait lists prolong the tension of the grueling college search for tens of thousands of students a year, giving a glimmer of hope that often ends with no payoff beyond the satisfaction of learning that elite schools considered their bids worthy of a verdict other than outright rejection.”
Schools that decide to admit from their waitlist begin to do so in late April, most, however, wait until after the May 1 enrollment deadline. Then the schools know where they need to fill in those gaps in their student body. There is less of a chance that elite universities and the Ivy League will need to accept any students from their waitlists because they usually have more than enough students willing to attend their freshman class. According to US News, “The National Association for College Admission Counseling estimates that only about 30 percent of students who opt to remain on a wait list are ultimately admitted.”
The chances of being admitted from a waitlist at any of the Ivy League universities are minimal, to say the least. The results from the Common Data Set questionnaire for 2014-15 give little indication as to how many were accepted from waitlists since most of the Ivies keep that information private. In 2014, Yale waitlisted 1,324 applicants, but no indication how many were eventually accepted. Stanford waitlisted 927 applicants but did not accept one of them. Harvard did not provide data, neither did Columbia University.
Some of the Ivies did tap into their waitlist pool to complete their freshmen class. Princeton University accepted a measly 39 students out of the final waitlist of 857 applicants. Cornell University also accepted applicants from their waitlist only 81, a small percent of the 2,231 on the final list. Dartmouth University had 963 waitlisted and admitted 129. Brown accepted the most, 192 applicants although they did not provide any data on how much they waitlisted or how many were on their final list.
Among other selective colleges, Lehigh and Tulane universities and the University of Maryland did accept any of those waitlisted; neither did Bryn Mawr, Dickinson, and Macalester colleges. While Carnegie Mellon University only accepted four students and Duke accepted nine applicants from their waitlists. The majority of schools that accept waitlisted applicants only accept a handful, mostly under 100 applicants each cycle.
On the opposite end, some schools accept hundreds of students from their waitlist, and even over a thousand applicants. The University of California at Davis accepts the most students from their waitlist in 2015; they accepted 2,030 applicants out of their final list of 2,733; UC Davis initially offered 9,033 to be waitlisted. While Penn State offered admission to the majority of the students on their final list, accepting 1,445 of the 1.473 on their waitlist.
The University of California at Berkeley also accepted a significant number of their waitlisted students, 1,340 out of their final list of 2,445. Some state universities even offered admission to their entire final waitlist, like Ohio State that accepted all 304 students on their final list. Other schools that admitted more than 200 waitlisted applicants include, the University of California at Santa Barbara 278, University of Texas 362, University of Virginia, 402, Case Western University 518, and Purdue University 643. Until 2010, the University of California system did not use the waitlist system, but now their schools accept more students than any other.
High school seniors put too much into being waitlisted, and even if they were accepted to other schools they often make the bad decisions about where to enroll based on the glimmer of hope. During April, students need to find out actively from the universities they are waitlisted on if the possibility can become a reality. If not, they could be throwing away their chances and future at a university they were accepted to, without giving the real opportunity a chance.
US News provided some insights and rules to follow when it comes to waitlists that students should follow. Students need to pursue admission to a waitlist actively if they hope to be accepted, but students should not bother the admissions office too much. Most importantly, students should fill out the online form or return the card indicating their interest in remaining on the waitlist for final consideration as soon as possible. Students should only do so if they are confident they will attend the school should they end up being accepted.
With the return card, students should try to provide additional information that might boost their chances of being accepted. The update could include new grades, “new standardized testing results,” accomplishments, honors of any sorts, new extracurricular or awards. If not, students should get an update from the guidance counselor or an additional letter of recommendation from a “teacher, coach, or administrator,” not parents, friends or alumni with connections to the school.” The letter should speak specifically to the student and the school’s fit.
Additionally, an applicant should write a letter to the admissions committee trying to sell themselves explaining how they would be a good fit for the college and what they could bring to the school to excel, whether it be a talent, extracurricular activity or unusual major. The most important aspect is to include that the school is a student’s first choice and if they were accepted they would attend. Sometimes it is advisable to go the extra mile and get a meeting with the dean of admission especially if the student feels there is something on their record that might require a personal explanation and plan for the future.
No matter students should always have a backup plan because so few colleges accept those on their waitlist. Students should still choose a college from those they were accepted to and submit the non-refundable deposit. It is better to prepare for the fall with a college that is a reality, than live in uncertainty waiting for a possibility. Students should make the most of the college they were accepted to and be excited about the education and adventures it can bring. If they end up not being satisfied, they can always request a transfer for their sophomore year.
More unfortunate are the students that might not have been accepted to any school, and their hope only relies on waitlists. Students can decide on community college, boost grades and retake tests to apply again. Another choice is to make the most of a gap year, an internship or travel or a job can be an opportunity for personal growth that can make a compelling and convincing application during the next cycle, and then they may end up at the college of their dreams.