Do You Want the School that Waitlisted You?

Robyn Tellefsen | June 4, 2013

college admissions waiting listIf you’re a fan of clear-cut, black-and-white decisions, getting a college waitlist letter probably ranks low on the list of things that make you happy. But more and more colleges are using making use of the dreaded limbo list. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) 2011 Admission Trends Survey, nearly 45 percent of colleges use waitlists.

Even if you do earn a spot on a college waitlist, odds are slim that you’ll eventually get in. The College Board data reveals that in 2012, for example, 10 percent of students who accepted waitlist spots at Yale University were eventually accepted to the school. That figure dropped to 7 percent for Georgetown University, and a big fat 0 percent for Stanford University.

If you’re one of the select few who do get in off the waitlist, the question remains – do you still want it? It’s important that you know your answer immediately, since you might not have the luxury of a snail mail letter informing you of your waitlist fate. According to NACAC, 53 percent of waitlist schools call students to notify them of acceptance. That means you’ve got to be ready when the call comes in.

Getting Ready for the Call
If the school that waitlisted you is your top choice, hands down, and nothing could ever change that, there’s not much to consider. You already know you’ll ditch your backup plan at the first ring, proving that “they had you at hello.”

For everyone else, though, there are a few key considerations when it comes to accepting an offer of admission off the waitlist.

For one thing, the financial aid package is often minimal at this stage in the game. If you’re counting on significant financial assistance, you might be better off sticking with the school that accepted you right off the bat.

The housing situation might be iffy as well. While most schools do provide housing for waitlist-admitted students, some schools’ dorms might already be filled up. Will you accept an offer of admission without guaranteed housing?

You also need to decide your dropdown deadline – what’s the last day the school can call you with an offer you’ll accept? Most schools make their waitlist calls in May or June, but some continue to accept students throughout the summer. Are you willing to lose your deposit at your backup school by accepting a waitlist offer? How about rearranging your travel plans?

Last but not least, is it going to bug you to be a waitlist admit instead of a first-round pick? The circumstances of your acceptance won’t matter in the long run, but if they matter to you, ask yourself if the waitlist school is really worth it.

Once you’ve considered all these factors, you can make an informed decision about accepting an offer of admission off the waitlist. Because when the call comes, you’ll need to be ready with a solid “yes” or “no.” A noncommittal “maybe” can kick you to the bottom of the waitlist, and the opportunity will be lost.

By the way, if you find this double standard troubling – they make you wait but you can’t make them wait – consider rejecting a spot on the waitlist in the first place. In 2012, 25 percent of Stanford hopefuls rejected their waitlist fate, 38 percent of students rejected the waitlist at Yale, and 49 percent rejected the waitlist at Georgetown.

In the end, it’s up to you – what will you do with your waitlist fate?

2 responses to “Do You Want the School that Waitlisted You?”

  1. Although it sounds alluring to reject my favorite school because they made me a second choice, it’s usually a difficult call to make. Since I would’ve put a lot of research and deliberation to pick my favorite school, and the chance (even the smallest) to get in, is always very tempting.

  2. robyntellefsen says:

    Good point. If you’re head over heels for a certain school, it’s hard to resist any offer you get. No matter what, the decision is not an easy one!

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