This has been quite an unpredictable college admissions year for our college-bound students. At first, we thought that colleges going test-blind or test-optional (SAT/ACT) was going to make it easier for students to apply – and therefore, increase their chances of getting into more selective colleges. But, the ivies and the most selective colleges (both public and private) have received upwards of 20% more applications this year compared to previous years.
All colleges are worried that they may not make their “yield” in students accepting their admissions offers, paying the deposit, and actually starting this fall. The pandemic and the economy have changed the formulas colleges normally use to determine their expected yield. To ensure that they will have a full class of students starting this fall, college admissions departments are placing large numbers of students on their waiting lists.
What does this mean?
When a college offers acceptance letters to 3000 students, they may expect 1800 to actually attend. Depending on the number of students who pay their deposits on May 1st, that college will probably accept students off their waiting list. Colleges generally accept between zero to 200 students off their waiting lists (this varies greatly between colleges).
This year (and in recent years), many colleges are placing close to the same number of accepted students on their waiting lists. So if a college accepts 3000 students, they may also place another 3000 students on their waiting list – even though they will most likely actually make offers to only about 200 students after May 1st.
Colleges need to ensure their yields, and they also want to soften the blow for legacy students. When colleges can’t accept alumni’s children, offering a position on the waiting list may feel less like a rejection. This is also true for other students; nobody likes to receive a denial letter – you know, the small envelope.
The problem with super selective colleges offering more waiting list spots is that it negatively affects all students. If top students are on waiting lists from their first choice colleges – say, ABC College, and subsequently accept to a lower-tiered college – say, DEF College, these top students are taking the place of students who really want to go to DEF College. The same happens with those on waiting lists to get into DEF College, when they accept to GHI College.
So what do you do if you’re on the waiting list?
Immediately write a letter stating your intent to enroll should you be given the opportunity to attend this fall. Colleges don’t rank their waiting lists and only consider students who respond to their waitlist offers. Tell them why you’re a good fit and what you can bring to their campus. Don’t call or send them things that they already know about. If you have made progress on your project, give them an update to remind them that you’re brilliant and motivated. Show them why you should be admitted.
You’re not alone as you consider your options. Good luck!