Cornell University Waitlist Prospects Grim

Since 2008, no students admitted to University from waitlist

They apply in the thousands — boasting among the highest GPAs and SAT scores in the nation — but Big Red hopefuls waitlisted by the University may have little reason to keep their fingers crossed for an acceptance. From 2009 through 2011, not a single one of the 8,841 students placed on the waitlist by the University was admitted off the waitlist.

3,120 students applying for a spot in the Class of 2016 were waitlisted this year, according to Lee Melvin, associate vice provost for enrollment. If their prospects mirror those of applicants in the three previous admissions cycles, they will not get in.

“It’s very difficult to predict if we will accept students off the waitlist right now, but we’re waiting until all deposits from the May 1 deadline have been confirmed before deciding if we need to admit additional students to reach our enrollment target,” Melvin said.

Waitlisting, Melvin said, is a “valuable enrollment management tool and should be strategically designed to assure we can achieve the institutional enrollment goal of 3,182 first time students.”

Bev Taylor, founder of Ivy Coach, a New York-based college consulting company, gave a different explanation. She said that with so few students –– if any — nabbing acceptances off the waitlist, colleges and universities often strategically waitlist thousands of students who will not be accepted in an attempt to evade offending applicants in the touchy admissions game.

For instance, legacy students who are not academically qualified for admission or students from high schools the University has close ties with who did not make the cut are often put on a “courtesy waitlist” — a conciliatory step above a flat-out rejection, Taylor said.

“[The waitlisted applicant] could be a child of the family who donated $25 million to the University but wasn’t going to make it in. But you know, Cornell, in its wisdom, says, ’You know what, we know they donated money, but that doesn’t mean we’ll have to accept them,’” she said.

Cornell may also turn to waitlisting to boost its rankings, Taylor said.

“By putting more kids on the waitlist, Cornell — as well as other colleges — can manipulate its yield, and in turn, really manipulate its admit ratio … which, of course, is a factor in rankings,” Taylor said.

When asked about courtesy waitlists, however, Melvin reiterated that “Cornell uses the waitlist to manage enrollment toward our overall enrollment goals.”

“I am not at liberty to comment on the opinions of a paid admissions consulting coach,” he added.

Applicants’ proposed program of study in some schools may tip the scale in their favor, depending on the size of the major and the number of students slated to enroll in the program. But with each college autonomously making “independent admissions decisions on whom to admit from the waitlist,” Melvin said that “until enrollment [is] finalized, we cannot predict the impact a waitlisted student’s major will have on his or her chances of being selected for admissions.”

With so many applications to the University, Melvin said, it is difficult for the admissions office to decide who will join the next class of Cornellians.

“We are fortunate to have a deep pool of well-qualified applicants, and selecting from this group is a continuous challenge for our admissions committees,” he said.

That challenge has likely grown over the years, as Cornell — similar to other Ivy League universities — has seen a surge in impressive applications from students across the world. Competition is fierce:  breaking another record, just 6,123 of the 37,812 who applied to the University this year secured places in the Class of 2016.

One year before, 36,392 applied; the year before that, 36,337.

But for waitlisted students, these numbers are not likely to be of much comfort.

Elizabeth Kuzmenko, a high school senior who applied to Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning, said that “being on the waitlist is very stressful.”

“It’s a rough situation because knowing the odds are against you … [You] desire to have hope that makes it bearable,” Kuzmenko said.

If the odds are not in Kuzmenko’s favor, the wait — as for thousands of applicants before her — may be futile.

“I’m basically on the edge of my seat,” Kuzmenko said. “But [my] fingers are crossed.”


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