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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  

Protecting Your College Acceptance

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Amidst the excitement and milestones that mark the life of a high school senior and their family, admission into college and selecting a desired destination for the next four years runs foremost.  This culmination of months —  if not years — of planning, researching and actively applying have finally come to fruition.

After the admission letters have been mailed out; a final choice has been decided; and the deposit for a student's spot in the fall class has been paid, what could get in the way?


It may surprise students and parents  to know that even after the acceptance agreement has been signed, in most cases colleges will still require submission of a final high school transcript.  That means that admission in the winter or spring of senior year is, in some ways, a preliminary acceptance.  Dartmouth College actually has a name for this:  the Post-acceptance Review.

Ultimately, an offer of admission is contingent on successful completion of senior year, generally consistent with the student’s past performance.   Colleges that do review final  transcripts have the option to question performance that has slipped significantly.  So what does significantly actually mean? 


If a student has been accepted on the basis of a transcript that shows As and Bs but has shifted downward, say, into the territory of Cs and Ds, the admitting college will want to know why.  The same may be true if a student decides to drop academic classes or move down levels in the second semester or final quarter.  Admitted Early Decision or Early Action applicants should be particularly cognizant of fluctuating transcripts since these students apply to college so early in the senior year calendar.

Why do colleges care?  Because, at a very basic level, institutions of learning aim to enroll students who are likely to be successful at their institution.  A student graduating high school with lower grades than those posted at the time of application is likely to raise red flags about their academic focus and potential for success in the freshman year. 

That said, if there is an extenuating circumstance that gives context to dropping grades (ex. illness; job loss; divorce; etc.) then the student, hopefully supported in kind by the school counselor, should be prepared to rapidly address the situation through a clear and cogent explanation.  

There could be financial implications as well since merit or grant monies may also be on the line, especially if a student was awarded funds based on GPA, academic performance, or some similar benchmark.


After months of immersion in the college process,  it's not surprising to find seniors exhaling and seeking the opportunity to lighten up on the accelerator.  Truly, the few remaining months of high school signify a time to celebrate a job well done and enjoy friendships and senior celebrations on the way to that long-anticipated graduation day.  A slight drop in grades is not the same as a full blown case of senioritis, so the key is to stay on the path to the finish line!    

In reality, colleges want to welcome the freshman class they have accepted!  

That said, Cornell University's College of Engineering doesn't mince words on the topic of dropping grades:

Can an offer of admission be rescinded if my senior-year grades go down? 

Cornell's offer of admission includes the following statement: "Our offer of admission is also contingent upon your satisfactorily completing any school work now in progress, and on your continuing to uphold high standards of character in activities outside the classroom." All enrolling students are required to submit a final high school transcript once they complete their senior year. Each transcript is reviewed to ensure that our enrolling students continued to succeed academically once they received their offers of admission. Students whose performance declined are asked to respond, in writing, with an explanation for the decline in academic performance. Responses are evaluated and a determination is made whether a student will be allowed to enroll, or if his/her offer of admission will be rescinded. The decisions we make in these cases are done thoughtfully, thoroughly, and bearing in mind their impact. This process usually occurs in June and we try to reach decisions as quickly as the process will allow so that students are definitively aware of their status and can plan accordingly.   


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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