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Hanging Out In Waitlist City

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Decision letters have been mailed out and the National Reply Date deadline of May 1 is here and gone. It's time to heave a happy sigh because the college application process for most seniors is finally in the rear-view mirror -- but not for all. For some applicants, the final story is an inconclusive one if placed on a waitlist, meaning they technically are not rejected -- but neither are they accepted. From Boston to Seattle, Portland to Miami, the trend many students are seeing is not admission, not rejection, but instead one of "no decision."

What's Behind the Waitlist Game?

In order to manage yield rates, an ever-important factor that goes into USNWR rankings (and you know not to pay any mind to a magazine's rankings, yes?) colleges have increasingly been playing a waitlist game that serves only to help them manage their acceptance/attendance numbers. By waitlisting applicants, colleges afford themselves flexibility because they can later pull in additional students after extensive review of initial acceptees who actually take their offered spot. Striking is the fact that it is not unusual for colleges to waitlist hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants, in some cases waitlisting more than the entire freshman class population.

How to Approach the Waitlist

First, recognize that at many schools the waitlist is little more than a holding pattern. If offered a spot on a college's waitlist, students need to confirm right away their intention to accept a spot. And then what? According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, students need to carefully follow directions for next steps required by the school. In general, waitlisted students can continue to express interest by writing a brief letter to admissions expressing sincere commitment to attending and WHY; forwarding any new and improved test scores; updating strong final grades; a new and insightful recommendation; notification about significant awards or achievements.

Know that unlike waiting in line for a seat on an over-sold flight, there is no "position number" on the waitlist. Another consideration for waitlisted students, in addition to continued weeks of uncertainty, is the likelihood that financial aid funds will be spoken for by the time colleges comb their waitlists for possible admits.

Hope springs eternal in the world of college admissions but, because movement on waitlists is typically slow and infrequent, the best approach is to deposit where accepted, proudly purchase the school T-shirt and commit to attend. Most students would be gratified to know that the schools that have accepted them view them as a fit and an asset to the school community. So celebrate your well-earned success: Woo-hoo and congratulations to all our seniors and their families!!

Image Credit: Rob Dobi
Marla Platt, M.B.A. is an independent college consultant based in Sudbury, MA through AchieveCoach College Consulting, providing personalized guidance to students and families throughout the college planning, search and admissions process. Marla is a professional member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and can be reached via  

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