Mar 30, 2015

Waitlisted or learning to live with uncertainty

The University of Richmond took 12 students off the wait list last year.

For the admissions office, it’s a safety valve—useful for controlling the flow of students admitted to the institution.

But for the applicant who has waited six long months for a decision, the wait list feels like a one-way ticket to nowhere.

And for students manipulated by enrollment management systems designed to attract thousands only to admit a select few, all we can say is, “Welcome to admissions purgatory.”

Unfortunately, even the concept of purgatory is more hopeful.  At least the souls ending up there have a clear road to heaven. Waitlisted students can only rely on anecdotal evidence of what has worked in the past to move an application from wait list to admit.  And what worked for one student, won’t necessarily work for another.

The entire scenario is particularly frustrating for the subset of applicants who submitted earlyEarly Action, Early Action II, Single Choice Early Action, Restricted Early Action, Early Decision I or even Early Decision II—only to be shunted off to the wait list.

You really have to want it to go through all that.

But hope springs eternal.  And that’s why there are lotteries and wait lists.

For the most part, colleges are entirely unapologetic about using the hopes of waitlisted students to further enrollment goals designed to fill freshman classes with only the best and brightest high school students.

After all, the wait list is simply a tool used to shape a class profile that will be balanced between males and females, is geographically and racially diverse, meets legislated residency requirements, fills the needs of obscure departments or sports teams, and still covers some part of the college operating budget.

Wait lists are very seldom prioritized and are almost always unpredictable. 

And all too often, schools advertising “needs blind” admissions quietly convert to “needs sensitive” when it comes to plucking a few lucky students from the list. Consequently, most bets are off for financial aid if you come through the wait list.

In other words, there’s no ranking, no money, and not too much hope. 

And sometimes, the list is hardly more than a thinly disguised PR scam designed to keep agitated parents, alums, and other interested parties at arm’s length. 

Waitlisted is an uncomfortable place to be. If you’ve been accepted or rejected, your status is clear. You can move on with your life. But waitlisted is like learning to live with uncertainty.

Face it:  very few waitlisted students are eventually invited to the dance.

Here are some Common Data Set (CDS) statistics (Question C2) published by local colleges and universities for students entering fall of 2014:

University of Virginia
Waitlisted: 5,543  (3,456 accepted a position on the waitlist)
Admission offers:  42 (185 the previous year)

Christopher Newport University

Waitlisted: 1592 (513 accepted)
Admission offers:  66 (137 the previous year)

College of William & Mary
Waitlisted: 3603 (1526 accepted)
Admission offers:  59 (96 the previous year)

George Mason University
Waitlisted:  2310 (1109 accepted)
Admission offers:  684 (252 the previous year)

Waitlisted:  3684 (1987 accepted)
Admission offers:  166 (405 the previous year)

University of Mary Washington
Waitlisted: 468 (113 accepted)
Admission offers: 105 (55 the previous year)

University of Richmond
Waitlisted: 3621 (1466 accepted)
Admission offers: 12 (95 the previous year)

Virginia Tech
Waitlisted:  2294 (1587 accepted)
Admission offers:  750 (110 the previous year)

Washington & Lee University

Waitlisted:  2271 (827 accepted)
Admission offers: 72 (96 the previous year)

American University (fall of 2013)
Waitlisted: 1465  (64 accepted)
Admission offers: 0 (0 the previous year)

Waitlisted:  2188 (1301 accepted)
Admissions offers:  114 (82 the previous year)

George Washington University (fall of 2013)
Waitlisted: 3770 (986 accepted)
Admission offers: 113 (26 the previous year)

Johns Hopkins University
(fall of 2013)
Waitlisted: 2069 (1032 accepted)
Admission offers:   57 (1 the previous year)

Goucher College
Waitlisted: 56 (40 accepted)
Admission offers: 8 (2 the previous year)

Loyola University of Maryland
Waitlisted: 2347 (424 accepted)
Admission offers: 150 (47 last year)

Waitlisted:  433 (433 accepted)
Admissions offers:  281 (21 the previous year)

Numbers vary by year depending on how accurately the admissions office pegged its “yield” or how desperate the need to control the composition of the freshman class. For colleges with unfilled seats after May 1st, the pool of waitlisted students is something like a candy jar from which they can pick and choose depending on wants and needs.

Sure there are steps you can take to try to get off the list—write a letter, get another recommendation, meet with an admissions rep—but there is an emotional cost which must be factored in.

“This is probably the toughest decision to get from a school,” explained Jeannine Lalonde, UVa’s “Dean J.”  For now you need to look at your other options and think about which one feels right to you.  Some of you will want to hold on and see what happens with the waiting list and other will want to fully invest themselves in another school.”

Is it worth the wait?

Sometimes, but not usually.

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