Are you on the waitlist at your dream college? Here’s what you should do

More high school seniors may be finding themselves in limbo this year as they end up on the wait list of their favorite college. But students who want to fight the long odds to get off the list at competitive schools shouldn’t just sit around.

As applications to top schools continue to climb, students are increasingly relegated to waitlists. Colleges ostensibly use waitlists to fill spots that open up when admitted students decline to attend. But the lists have ballooned so much — some are even bigger than the size of a college’s incoming class — that college counselors have grown skeptical of their usefulness.

During the fall 2016 admissions cycle, nearly 40% of schools used a waitlist, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Between fall 2015 and fall 2016, schools increased the number of students offered a spot on their waitlist by an average of 11%. At relatively selective colleges, or those that admit fewer than half of their applicants, just 14% of students who accepted a spot on a school’s waitlist were admitted.

“I understand they’re running a business and they need fall back,” said Mimi Doe, the founder of Top Tier Admissions, a college consulting firm. “But it is emotionally very tough for most kids because they hold out hope and they make plans that are ill-informed.”

If you’re one of the thousands of students on a waitlist this year, here’s how you can approach that situation wisely:

Be realistic about your (slim) chances

Though students may want to take steps to get off the waitlist at their favorite college, they should remember that it’s unlikely those efforts will be successful at a top college. Schools tend to be coy about how many students they take from the waitlist, but at elite schools, the rate of admission from the waitlist can be lower than they already-low regular admissions rate. Last year, after a record number of students decided to enroll, Harvard admitted no students off its waitlist, according to the school’s student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson. The school’s dean of admissions has said Harvard plans to take more students off the wait list this year.

Still, the odds of getting off of a wait list at a selective college are “very slim,” said Anna Ivey, a college and law school admissions consultant. That’s why she and other college counselors encourage students to mentally commit to the school where they send in a deposit, even if it’s not their dream school. (And no, there’s typically no way to get that money back if you do end up getting off the waitlist at your desired school.)

Cristiana Quinn, a college counselor in Rhode Island, said over the past few years, slightly more than half of the waitlisted students she’s worked with were ultimately admitted. Still, she tells students that they “shouldn’t in any way shape or form, count on getting in off a waiting list. If they do it’s gravy, but it’s unlikely to happen, based on the statistics.”

Contact the college after you find out you’ve been waitlisted

The first thing to do is to let the college know you’d like to stay on the list, Doe said. Typically colleges will ask students to confirm they want to remain on their waitlist either by sending back a card, signing up online or taking other steps. Students who plan to accept a position on the waitlist should be sure to follow whatever directions they’re given by the college. “They’re going to shake off a bunch of kids who don’t take any action,” Doe said.

Your high school counselor may know how the waitlist works

After students alert the college that they’d like to stay on the waitlist, they should wage a campaign to make sure they are considered for a place, Doe said. That process starts with talking to their high school counselor. Often the counselor may be communicating with the admissions staff at the college a student is interested in and will have some insight into why the student wound up on the waitlist.

It’s possible there was a weakness in the student’s application — say a low grade that later improved or a lack of decisiveness about what they wanted to pursue in college — that the student can remedy in follow-up communications with the school, Doe said.

Write a personal letter to the admissions office

Reach out to the admissions office yourself in writing. Doe suggests students do what they can to find the admissions officer that works with their high school. Sometimes that information is available on the school’s website or in other communications the student has received, and often high school counselors will know the best person to address the letter or email to.

Students should be sure to include any positive developments — another standardized test score, a new class that fits with their interests, academic or extracurricular awards etc. — since they submitted their initial application.

It’s also important for students to reiterate their interest in the school and in particular why it’s a good academic fit, Doe said.

“Saying the words, ‘If accepted, I will attend — as long as it’s genuine — is important,” Quinn said. They want to know who is “yieldable,” she said. (Yield, or the share of students offered admission who choose to attend, is an important metric for admissions staff).

Consider visiting the campus, particularly if you haven’t already

Visiting the school can help to communicate your interest in attending, particularly if you haven’t visited already, Doe said. “If you have not visited their campus, and you want to go there, you better book the first plane to get out there.”

Be prepared not to receive institutional financial aid

By the time colleges are admitting candidates off the waitlist, it’s likely much of the institutional financial aid they have to offer will already be spoken for, said David Hawkins, the executive director for educational content and policy at the National Association of College Admissions Counseling.

In some cases, colleges that make blanket promises about funding — for example, students coming from families earning less than a certain amount of money won’t have to pay tuition — will still honor those promises when admitting students off the waitlist, but policies vary among schools, Hawkins said. Colleges with limited resources may even be looking down the waitlist for students who can afford to pay full-freight, he said.

All of that means that students on the waitlist should be prepared to take whatever financial aid offer they’re given by the school, even if it’s nothing or less than what they’d expect, Ivey said. “You basically have no leverage to negotiate scholarships,” she said.

Decide how you will respond if you get the nod

By the time they’re looking to the waitlist, admissions officers want to fill the spots as quickly as possible, said Ivey, who was once dean of admissions at the University of Chicago Law School. That means that students don’t have much time to hem and haw over the offer and so they should be prepared to respond quickly. For instance, is attending this specific school worth it, if you are not receiving as much financial aid as you had originally anticipated?

Don’t do anything risky or gimmicky

Though students’ and parents’ first instinct may be to try and get the attention of admissions officers in any way they can, they should avoid that impulse, Doe said. Don’t ambush admissions representatives on campus, send them cupcakes or some other treat or flood them with letters from a family friend who is a VIP or major donor.

“You want to use your connection — if you have one — to find out where the student is on your waitlist,” Doe said. Schools sometimes rank their waitlists and finding out where a student is on the list can help them get a sense of whether their hopes of getting in are even realistic, she said.

There is some relevant information students can send to the admissions office, Doe said. For example if a student did a research project with a professor or took another relevant course it may be worth sending in a recommendation from that teacher.

But any extra information sent to the school during the waitlist period should be relevant to how the student has improved since the initial application — not what a wonderful family they come from or other generic insights that can come from a family friend or parent’s work acquaintance.

Be prepared to move on

Though there are steps students should take if they have any hope of getting off the waitlist, there’s not actually much students can do to change their status, Ivey said.

“The things that allow you to be taken off the waitlist are most of the time completely out of your control,” she said. “It’s not about you.”

Statistical compatibility is a big factor. Do they have a standardized test score that may boost the average of the class? Are they part of a certain demographic or from a specific region that will round out the class? These are the kinds of questions that admissions officers are trying to answer when admitting students off the waitlist, Ivey said.

“The less they have to mess with their data, the better,” she said.

Source