The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) cites an increase in college applications and of students applying to 7 or more colleges

More Apps + Uncertain Economic Times = More Wait List Students

How Does the Wait List Work?

Instead of the usual thick or thin envelope indicating acceptance or rejection, you may just receive a postcard you need to return if you choose to accept a spot on the school’s waitlist.  Over 50% of schools indicate they use a waitlist and this number is up.  Students who once would have been admitted are being placed on the waitlist in increasing numbers. The college identifies students they don’t want to outright accept or reject then offers them a spot on the waitlist.  Students still wanting a chance of admission at the school will notify the school in writing that they are accepting placement on the waitlist.

Most schools don’t rank their waitlist, but be sure to ask if yours does.  A lower number would indicate a greater likelihood of ultimately being admitted at a school that ranks. A school that doesn’t rank the waitlist will essentially seek a certain type of student to meet a desirable demographic to round out the freshman class. For instance, a school that had fewer accepted civil engineering majors enroll (yield) may seek to admit a waitlist student for this major.

What Should You Do?

Before you accept a spot, consider if you really want to attend this school if admitted.  Do you have a school that has accepted you where you’d be just as happy to attend? If so, don’t accept the waitlist offer.  Accepting a spot then not attending would take that opportunity away from a student for whom this school is first choice.

If you are considering accepting a placement on the list, ask questions. Overall only about 30% of wait-listed students are ultimately accepted; however, I just looked up a school for a consulting client of mine and that rate was a measly 4% accepted from those offered a position. Ask the school the percentage they admitted the previous year as an indicator of your odds, but know there can be major swings from year to year.  For the high school class of 2016, The Ohio State University offered 2,075 students a waitlist position but ultimately admitted NONE of them. Then in 2017, 5,051 were offered the waitlist option, 1283 students put their name on the list, and 852 were admitted.

Consider your ability to pay for the school without aid. The pool of accepted applicants may very well dry up the available monies, leaving those coming off the waitlist with little to no financial aid. As a matter of fact, a college may consider a student’s ability to pay the full cost of attendance when deciding who to admit.

If you do decide this school is your first choice, be prepared to likely wait until after May 1st. This means you’ll pay a deposit (and possibly lose it) to another school while you wait.

To increase your chances of admission do the following, but don’t become a pest.

  • Send updated grades and ACT or SAT scores, if you are on an upward trend
  • Write a brief letter indicating why you are an excellent fit for the school and your intent to attend if accepted
  • Notify the school of recent additional awards or recognitions
  • Don’t send more than one additional letter of recommendation