What to do when wait-listed for college

Joan Franklin
On College

Joan Franklin
On College

Question: I have been wait-listed at one of my top-choice colleges. Is there anything I can do at this point?

Answer: I am sorry to hear that you are wait-listed, as I know this is a very disappointing experience for you. I think it is important for your family and friends to acknowledge the loss you are experiencing. Often, you will hear people trying to console you by telling you that “it’s for the best,” “it wasn’t the right school for you anyway” or “when you are my age, it doesn’t matter where you went to school.” I think when students take the time to find what they consider their ideal school, it is a bit like falling in love. You go through all the work picturing yourself there along with the hours you put into your application to make yourself an attractive candidate only to experience “unrequited love” in the form of a rejection letter.

While you recognize that you are in the peak of the population bubble and more students are being rejected than ever before, it still hurts. Again, I am sorry. While I could console you by pointing out that colleges are now rejecting most students who are capable of doing the work at their college and being wait-listed is probably not a reflection of you as a student, I might find myself falling into the same trap I just cautioned others to avoid. Suffice it to say that it is a difficult time for this current senior class in terms of college admission and certainly no consolation to you that this population bubble should end in a few years.

When you are wait-listed, you really have two choices. Some students choose to move forward, do nothing and accept admission to another school. Other students choose to remain on the wait-list, hoping to see their rejection decision reversed.

It is important to understand the nature of the wait list you were put on. For many highly selective schools, the wait list is simply a “courtesy rejection” with essentially no chance of being admitted. When one reviews the statistics from some of these schools, you can see that up to 400 students find themselves on wait-lists with only five to 10 ever gaining admittance. Occasionally, a school may have over-enrolled the previous year and purposely took 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.

NACAC published statistics in 2002, stating that one in five got off of the list.

If you are still interested in attending that school, it behooves you to call the admission office and ask how many students are on the wait list and how many students from previous years have been accepted from their list. Second, 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 certainly put in 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 is true, I would specify that you would definitely attend this school if you offered admission. I would let them know in writing if there were any new accomplishments that might not have been included in your application. MJ Hillstrom, an MIHS college counselor, said, that she would “call the admission officer at a school you were rejected at only if something has changed in your application that would make you more attractive to this college as only the college counselor can explain it.” I advise 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 “top of the pile,” I caution you to only do so if you truly have something to add, as you could be misconstrued as being a nuisance.

Lastly, I advise students to move on and not get too optimistic, as we all know how hard it is to recommit to a new relationship when you harbor hopes of renewing an old flame. Send in your deposit to another school now so that 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 that just isn’t so.

Joan Franklin is the owner of The College Source, an Independent College Consulting Practice (www.thecollegesource.org). She is also a certified school counselor in the Issaquah School District. She lives and practices on Mercer Island and can be reached at (206) 232-5626 or joanfranklin@thecollegesource.org.