How Can College-Bound Students Deal With the Wait List?
Invitations to the wait list are among the less pleasant surprises in college admissions. The wait list is not usually a reward for extraordinary achievement or a consolation prize. It exists in case a college admissions office comes up short in filling a freshman class. The wait list might turn out to be a lifeline for some students, but not always
Given that odds of getting off the wait list might not be favorable, what should a wait listed applicant do?
- Consider all of the schools that have offered acceptances, and possibly visit them again, preferably at accepted students events, to have the opportunity to meet prospective classmates. Sometimes the school that wants you more becomes more appealing when you visit again.
- Ask what you are willing to do to get off the wait list. There are prospective students who will choose another major, enter in the spring instead of the fall, start their education at a college’s campus abroad or spend more money to go to a first-choice school, to give examples. But are these compromises really worth it when another school that sent an acceptance notice, especially with a scholarship, has tried to be more accommodating?
- Ask the admissions office about past decisions from the wait list. Admissions offices do have access to admissions data for previous classes. A thoughtful one should be willing to explain the data about the wait list as well as the issues that the prospective student will face. But there will also be admissions offices that will not return your e-mail or phone call. The non-response sends its own message.
- Appeal the college’s decision. Be careful here. If your first choice school is one such as Cornell, where the number of wait-listed applicants is larger than the incoming freshman class, the appeal is likely to fall on deaf ears. The most selective schools will typically receive deposits from 40 percent of more of the students who were accepted. For Cornell, the yield rate, the percentage of accepted students who deposited, was 56 percent for the current freshman class. But another college admissions office that has a much lower yield rate, excluding the more selective state schools, might be willing to consider an appeal, when it is concise and polite.
- Update the admissions office on any positive changes that might lead them to offer an acceptance, including academic honors or extracurricular accolades. Admissions officers want to feel good about any decisions to admit someone off a wait list.
Are wait listed students accepted later in an admissions cycle?
Sometimes, but that depends on what accepted students decide to do.
Last year, for example, The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) offered 2,400 applicants a place on the wait list. About 600 took them up on the offer. But only 20 were later offered admission. That school had admitted over 6,100 applicants to get a class of 1,500. They did not need to rely too much on the wait list to fill the class. But TCNJ had to admit 285 students off the wait list the year before, and 238 the year before that. The size of the class each year was about the same.
TCNJ is only one example, but there are many others where an admissions office cannot predict if a student will be admitted off a wait list. Their decisions may depend not only on what the accepted students decide to do, but also on their choice of major, especially at a mid-sized or large school. TCNJ might find itself slightly over-enrolled in Business, Computer Science or Engineering for the coming fall. Wait-listed applicants who chose those programs when they applied are going to be out of luck, unless they are willing to consider another major.
Another consideration is financial aid. More and more college admissions processes are “need aware,” meaning that those who fall at the bottom of the admitted pool—and this includes those on a wait list—are less likely to be admitted if they need aid from the school itself. They are more likely to welcome a student who already has the funds.
The wait list is an unpleasant surprise for anyone who hoped to go to their first-choice school. The odds of being admitted will not always be in the applicants favor. However, the mature approach, to consider options and be polite to the admissions officers, is always the best one.
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