College decisions are rolling out almost daily. Students are checking their email accounts, college portals, and mailboxes almost every hour in hopes of an acceptance rolling in. The excitement of this time also brings with it great disappointment. A denial is certainly disappointing. But this is a disappointment that students are prepared to handle. They realize that denials are a part of the admissions process. But the surge in waitlist offers brings with it a level of ambiguity that can actually cause more confusion and stress – this is heavily influenced by the fact that students and parents don’t really understand what a waitlist position truly means.
These days many colleges are placing students on waitlists because the number of qualified students greatly surpasses the number of seats a college has available. Since students are applying to more colleges than ever, it has become more difficult for these schools to predict their yield – the percentage of students that will accept their offers of admission. If the school offers too few spots, they will have empty seats, and as a result a potential loss in revenue. If the school offers too many acceptances, then they risk not having enough seats in the classroom or beds in a dorm. A too large class can also change the dynamic and student body that the college is aiming to create. It can also unfortunately impact the school’s college ranking. As a result, the waitlist has become a very popular enrollment management tool. So now we know what it means to the college to have a waitlist. But what does it mean to you?
Well, a waitlist essentially means that the admissions officers think that you are a great candidate for the university and believe that you deserve to be admitted, but as of right now there is not a definitive space. Once the schools have heard back from all of its admitted students, the admissions officers will again revisit the list of waitlisted students and handpick students to fill in the remaining seats. Most waitlists are not ranked meaning that you will not know if you are the school’s next in line. The reason is that colleges are still trying to build a balanced class and will look at multiple different factors when choosing which students to pull off the list. The reality is that the school may not even take any students off the waitlist. As a result, you cannot make any assumptions about these decisions.
Many colleges will not make final waitlist decision until well after the May 1 national signing deadline. By that day, students must submit their Intent to Register and deposit to a given school. Colleges then go through the arduous task of tallying their yield, sorting through the waitlist, and making additional offers if the space allows it. Typically a college will send out waitlist offers in waves, meaning that a student may not get a final decision until late June even July. At this point, colleges close their lists.
So what is a student to do? Well the first thing you have to do is decide if you want to stay on the waitlist. It may be tempting to accept every waitlist offer you have – just to see what happens. But don’t fall into that trap. Only accept the waitlist offers for schools you would actually consider. The stress of waiting is just not worth it otherwise. If you decide to stay on the waitlist, accept it and then move on to making a final decision about your other options. You must work under the assumption that the waitlist will not come through. You will by May 1st have to choose an offer from another school. If you don’t, you run the risk of not having a college to attend.
I realize that a waitlist can prolong the agony of college admissions, but try not to let it. Focus on the amazing options that you have in front of you.