Go with a second choice or wait

Question: My son is on the wait list for the college of his choice. He was accepted into his second choice. Should he move on and be glad he got into his No. 2 school?

Answer: In previous years, I might have said to embrace the school that he was accepted into and move on, as the chances of getting off a wait list are pretty low. This year, all bets are off as admission officers admit that they are more uncertain than ever about how many students will actually enroll in their universities and colleges. With this economic downturn, it is likely that families will forego private colleges for their state institutions. Other families are choosing to accept offers at less prestigious schools where their student has been offered merit money, in lieu of Ivy League schools where only those with documented financial need routinely get money. For this reason, colleges are reporting that they are putting more students on their wait lists to ensure that seats are filled in the fall.

Knowing this, I would still put down your deposit on his No. 2 choice by May 1 to ensure a place there, as students often do not hear from the schools where they have been placed on the wait list until later in the spring or even until summer. When you are placed on the wait list, you are usually asked to fill out a card documenting that you are in fact interested in remaining on the wait list, along with writing a short letter expressing your interest in attending this school.

By all means, do not stay on the wait list if you will not attend after you are accepted. Some students stay on the list just to know if they could have been accepted, while others want the opportunity to be accepted so that they can be the ones to turn down the school at a later time. Ego aside, it is only fair to take yourself off the wait list if you will not enroll so that another student who has his or her heart set on that school will have the opportunity.

If you do choose to pursue the wait list, there are a few suggestions which I offer to students. I would send a well-written letter specifying why this school is the best fit for you in light of its specific academic areas or extracurricular activities that can only be found at this school. Be as specific as possible, even if that means studying up on this school through its Web sites, catalogs or even correspondence with faculty about course offerings. I would also send in additional information about yourself that might not have been available at the time when your application was submitted. This could include updated grades, new accomplishments in or out of the classroom or even newspaper clippings highlighting you in some way. I like to ask admission officers what type of information they would welcome at this time, as some frown on new letters of recommendation or a student reiterating what was already presented in his original application. I would take the time to research which admission officer might be responsible for reviewing your new materials and contact him personally by phone or e-mail. You might even want to ask if it would behoove you to interview with them at this time, if you did not have the opportunity to visit or interview in the past.

I would ask if the school has a ranking system for its wait list and how many students might be taken from the list. With this shaky economy, colleges reluctantly are admitting that they are looking more favorably on students who do not need financial aid and can pay full freight. If you can say with certainty that you will accept a school’s offer of acceptance even without financial assistance, state that clearly in writing.

But don’t make a pest of yourself. While some college consultants recommend that you call or e-mail weekly, I think this approach could easily backfire. Some students have been known to send in gifts, foods or even poems in the hopes of distinguishing themselves. If you can creatively make your desire to attend that school known — and by that, I do not mean engraving your name on M&M’s — go for it.

I know many students who ended up going to their No. 2 choice, only to find that it was probably a better fit for them in the long run. Remember that what makes college a successful experience for your student in many ways is a matter of serendipity. That being said, I would approach the whole wait list affair with a healthy dose of hope and cynicism, as the rules are still being written in these uncertain times.

Joan Franklin is the owner of The College Source, an independent college consulting practice: She is also a certified school counselor in the Issaquah School District. She can be reached at (206) 232-5626 or

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 19
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates