Why Can’t My Student Find Out His Place on the Admissions Waitlist?
Your student has been waitlisted for admission to his first choice college. He has officially entered the limbo in which more and more students (perhaps as high as 10% of applicants) find themselves. He’s not in – but he hasn’t exactly been rejected either. It is rather like trying to fly standby – you don’t have a seat on the plane, but there is a chance that you might get one.
What exactly is a waitlist?
The waitlist is a list of students who are qualified for acceptance to the college, but for whom the college does not have a current place. Some students may actually be overqualified, and the school is waiting to see whether they are accepted and choose to attend a more selective school. The college doesn’t want to waste a spot in their accepted student pool on someone they assume will probably attend another college. Other students may be slightly underqualified and are given a “courtesy” place on the waitlist as a softer form of rejection. This may be especially true of students who are related to alumni or wealthy donors.
But most students on the waitlist are fully qualified to attend the school. The waitlist becomes a safety net for the college if their “yield” (number of accepted students who make a deposit) is low. As students apply to more and more colleges, the yield may become more unpredictable.
If more accepted students than expected (based on previous experience) choose to deposit, the college will be scrambling for additional housing and seats in classes. If fewer accepted students than expected choose to deposit, the college will move to its waitlist to fill additional places in the upcoming class.
Your student is sitting on the bench waiting for an opportunity to play, but isn’t in the game yet.
So how does my student find out where he stands on the waitlist?
The answer to this is that your student probably cannot find out because the list isn’t ranked. Most schools’ waitlists are non-prioritized. This means that if there is an opening for a student and the admissions office goes to the waitlist, staff will re-review the entire pool to find the best applicant.
A student may find himself on a waitlist less because he is better or worse than an accepted student, but because the college has attempted to build a well-rounded class and fulfill certain needs or gaps in the student body. Admissions offices take great care to ensure that they do not admit an entire class of athletes but no musicians, or a class of outstanding potential science majors but no business majors. When the opening occurs, the admission staff will review their current deposited students and evaluate remaining needs. Perhaps your student will be the lucky French horn player that the orchestra needs, or perhaps he will be the star basketball player in a year when the team is overfull.
At this point in the process, there is a lot of luck involved.
What should my student do?
There are some things that your student can do to increase his chances of moving off a waitlist, but the reality is that it is very likely that it will not happen. In 2012, approximately 25.4% of students were accepted off of waitlists. At very selective schools, the percentage was significantly lower. The trend in recent years has been toward longer and longer waitlists at many schools.
Your student can view the college’s waitlist conversion acceptance rate (students accepted from the waitlist) by visiting www.collegeboard.org. (On the home page, go to College Search and type in the school, then click on the college name, then on the left hand side click on Applying. If the college has provided information, your student can see the number of students accepted from the waitlist.) However, this may or may not be helpful to your student. Remember, there is a lot of luck involved.
First, it is time for your student to decide whether it is worth prolonging the admission process by hoping to be accepted from the waitlist when the odds are slim. It may be time for your student to love his second choice school, make a deposit and move on. This will ensure that he has a place in the fall. Gambling solely on a waitlist acceptance is definitely a risky move.
If your student decides to remain on the waitlist, he must let the college know that he is still interested. He may send a letter of enthusiasm and any new information, such as more recent grades. Then he needs to be willing to wait – well past the May 1 deposit deadline – perhaps into the summer.
What can you do?
There may be little that you can do as a parent at this point, but you can help your student understand the nature of waitlists and the odds of being accepted. Help him understand that this is not a rejection because he is not worthy, but rather the college attempting to form a well-rounded student body. Help him decide how to move forward to ensure that he has a place somewhere in the fall. Support your student in his choice and help him work toward making the most of his college experience – wherever he winds up.