It is college decision time

Question: I was wait-listed to my top school. Should I just give up?

Answer: Wait list decisions can be very difficult because it can keep you in a state of limbo until school actually starts. It is often painful to commit to a school where you were actually admitted if you are still holding out for your top choice. When you are wait-listed, you really have two choices: move forward and embrace the schools where you were admitted or remain on the wait list in the hopes of ultimately being admitted.

It is important to understand the nature of the wait list that you were put on. For many highly selective schools, the wait list is simply a courtesy rejection with essentially a zero chance of being admitted from their list. When one reviews the statistics from some of these schools, you can see that, in some cases, hundreds of students find themselves on the wait list with only five to 10 ever gaining admittance. Occasionally, a school may have exceeded enrollment the previous year and purposely accepted fewer students this year to balance their yield. They did this with the understanding that they would be accepting students from the wait list once they had a more definitive sense of their numbers in early May, when students must commit with a nonrefundable deposit. According to statistics from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), in one year only one in five were ever admitted off a wait list.

If you are still interested in attending a college for which you were wait-listed, it behooves you to call the admission office and ask how many students are on the wait list, as well as how many students from previous years have been accepted from their list. Secondly, I would try to talk to the admission officer who read your application to see if you could learn why you were rejected and if there was anything you could do at this point to make your application more attractive. I would put into writing that you are very much interested in remaining on the wait list and why you feel that this college is the best fit for you, based on your learning style or academic goals. If it were true, I would specify that you would definitely attend this school if you were offered admission. I would also let them know if there were any new accomplishments that might not have been included in your application.

I do ask students to ask if they can have an interview, if they have not been interviewed in the past, even if that means flying across the country to show your commitment to the college. While some counselors advocate calling or sending in new material every few weeks to remain on the top of the pile, I caution you to do so only if you truly have something to add, as you could be misconstrued as being a nuisance.

NACAC has published the following guidelines for colleges to follow when it comes to wait lists: 1) The notification letter should describe the number of students on the wait list, the number offered admission, and the availability of financial aid and housing; 2) Colleges may require neither a deposit nor a written commitment as a condition of remaining on a wait list; and 3) Colleges are expected to notify you of the resolution of your wait list status by Aug. 1 at the latest.

Lastly, I caution students to try to move on and not get too optimistic, as we all know how hard it is to commit to a new relationship when you harbor hopes of renewing an old flame. Send in your deposit to another school now so you have a better chance for priority housing and even financial aid. And while the old adage goes, “It’s not over till it’s over,” this may be one of those times when it just ain’t so.


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