The National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC) specifically asks colleges to provide each waitlisted student with a fair assessment of their odds of being offered admission.
Under a published series of “best practices” contained within NACAC’s Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP), colleges agree to
“provide in the notification letter or electronic communication of those applicants offered a place on the wait list a history that describes the number of students offered places on the wait lists, the number accepting places, the number offered admission, and the availability of financial aid and housing;”
Yet according to a study conducted by NACAC, 72 percent of the colleges and universities responding to NACAC’s admissions trends survey did not inform students about their position on the wait list or their likelihood of admission.
Although 80 percent provided some written information about waitlist policies, this information generally pertained to directions for remaining on the wait list (93%), the amount of time students had to respond to being accepted from the wait list (64%), and the last date that admission offers would be made (59%).
In its most recent report on the State of College Admission, NACAC found that 43 percent of colleges used a wait list—up from 32 percent in 2002. Forty-two percent of colleges and universities reported increases from fall 2012 to fall 2013 in the number of students who were placed on wait lists. In addition, institutions reported placing an average of 10 percent of all applicants on the wait list for the fall 2013 admission cycle, and an average of 49 percent of waitlisted students opted to remain on the list.
According to NACAC, institutions admitted an average of 30 percent of all students who chose to remain on wait lists. BUT, those colleges and universities accepting fewer than 50 percent of applicants overall admitted an average of only 16 percent of waitlisted students. This suggests that many thousand waitlisted students were left unnecessarily hanging on to hopes and dreams.
NACAC began studying waitlist policies and procedures out of a growing concern for students being used in an aggressive war among colleges to improve yield. Specifically, it came to NACAC’s attention that some colleges were suggesting an offer of admission to waitlisted students but not providing them with adequate time or information with which to make decisions.
In fact, it’s not unusual to hear about coy conversations between admissions staff and waitlisted students starting something like, “If you were offered admission from the waitlist, would you accept?”
In some circles this doesn’t count as an “admit.” If the student demurs or doesn’t respond positively, then the offer isn’t formally made and the number doesn’t count against yield.
But there’s a larger issue of how many may be too many students on a wait list. Are there political motivations or is it simply a matter of having a very comprehensive insurance policy (C.Y.A.)?
Sadly in the waitlist game, colleges hold all the cards. Not only can they use the wait list to further enrollment management goals, but they often do so with callous disregard to the anxiety and stress these lists cause.
Although some colleges do provide wait list statistics for families to review, many do not. The clever applicant can check various publications and websites or use Common Data Set (CDS) information to try to get at numbers and trends. But not all colleges cooperate.
For example, Columbia University, NYU, Syracuse and the University of Chicago don’t make the CDS public. Bowdoin, Brown, Vanderbilt, UCLA and Northeastern publish the CDS but mysteriously leave one or more questions pertaining to waitlist numbers (C2) blank. Wake Forest specifically states on their CDS form that they “do not publish” waitlist information. And although Boston University, Duke, Georgetown, Fordham, MIT, Tufts, Wash U, Yale and Harvard publish some data, what they have online usually lags by at least a year.
Why some colleges are hesitant to be public about their wait lists isn’t such a mystery. Wait lists are getting longer, and the odds of being plucked off the list are stacked against the average applicant. But colleges need wait lists and have no problem stringing along several thousand students for the purpose of admitting only a handful—even when they have already filled nearly 50 percent or more of the class through binding early admission!
Here are some numbers from a few well-regarded institutions. If nothing else, they strongly suggest that NACAC needs to revisit the issue of wait list abuse. These figures come from 2015-16 CDS information:
Amherst College, MA
Total applicants: 8568
Waitlisted: 1398—16% of total applicants or 293% of total enrolled (643 accepted places)
Admitted: 33 (61 in 2014)
Cal Tech, CA
Total applicants: 6506
Waitlisted: 615—9% of total applicants or 255% of total number enrolled (429 accepted places)
Admitted: 0 (47 in 2014)
Carnegie Mellon University, PA
Total applicants: 20,547
Waitlisted: 5526—27% of total applicants and 351% of total number enrolled (2835 accepted places)
Admitted: 4 (73 in 2014)
Cornell University, NY
Total applicants: 41,900
Waitlisted: 3583—8% of total applicants or 57% of total number enrolled (2231 accepted places)
Admitted: 81 (96 in 2014)
Georgia Tech, GA
Total applicants: 27,277
Waitlisted: 3397—12% of total applicants or 110% of total number enrolled (2031 accepted places)
Admitted: 38 (174 in 2014)
Johns Hopkins University, MD
Total applicants: 24,716
Waitlisted: 2752—11% of total applicants or 211% of total number enrolled (1747 accepted places)
Admitted: 187 (1 in 2014)
Lehigh University, PA
Total applicants: 12,843
Waitlisted: 4234—33% of total applicants or 336% of total number enrolled (1847 accepted places)
Admitted: 0 (2 in 2014)
Northwestern University, IL
Total applicants: 32,122
Waitlisted: 2614—8% of total applicants or 130% of total number enrolled (1452 accepted places)
Admitted: 43 (55 in 2014)
University of Notre Dame, IN
Total applicants: 18,157
Waitlisted: 1602—9% of total applicants or 78% of total number enrolled (869 accepted places)
Pomona College, CA
Total applicants: 8099
Waitlisted: 842—10% of total applicants or 211% of total number enrolled (492 accepted places)
Princeton University, NJ
Total applicants: 27,290
Waitlisted: 1206—4% of total applicants or 91% of total number enrolled (857 accepted places)
Admitted: 39 (41 in 2014)
Rice University, TX
Total applicants: 17,951
Waitlisted: 2237—12% of total applicants or 231% of total number enrolled (1659 accepted places)
Admitted: 127 (150 in 2014)
Stanford University, CA
Total applicants: 42,497
Waitlisted: 1256—3% of total applicants or 73% of total number enrolled (927 accepted places)
Admitted: 0 (7 in 2014)
Tulane University, LA
Total applicants: 26,257
Waitlisted: 3413—13% of total applicants or 199% of total number enrolled (921 accepted places)
Admitted: 0 (0 in 2014)
UC Berkeley, CA
Total applicants: 78,924
Waitlisted: 3760—5% of total applicants or 68% of total number enrolled (2445 accepted places)
Admitted: 1340 (437 in 2014)
University of Michigan, MI
Total applicants: 51,761
Waitlisted: 14,960—29% of total applicants or 246% of total number enrolled (4512 accepted places)
Admitted: 90 (91 in 2014)
University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, NC
Total applicants: 31,953
Waitlisted: 3144—10% of total applicants or 77% of total number enrolled (1513 accepted places)
Admitted: 78 (31 in 2014)
University of Pennsylvania, PA
Total applicants: 37,268
Waitlisted: 2474—7% of total applicants or 102% of total number enrolled (1438 accepted places)
Admitted: 90 (136 in 2014)
Wesleyan University, CT
Total applicants: 9822
Waitlisted: 1877—19% of total applicants or 248% of total number enrolled (884 accepted places)
Admitted: 12 (70 in 2014)