Secret Sauce of College Waiting Lists

College Waiting Lists, College Waitlists, College Waiting List

Who is likely to get waitlisted, you ask? We’ve got answers (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

But, Ivy Coach, we’re tired of reading about what to do if you’re waitlisted. We know, we know. We’re tired of writing about it too. But so many folks keep reaching out to us hoping to get off college waitlists, so we feel obliged to write just a little bit more about dreaded waitlist limbo. This post isn’t so much about what to do if you’re waitlisted (contact us and if you sign up for our service, we’ll help you craft a powerful and compelling Letter of Enthusiasm that will give you the best shot possible of admission off a waitlist). Rather, this post is about who tends to get waitlisted in the first place.

So who gets waitlisted, Ivy Coach?

Students with high grades but low test scores are prime candidates for the waitlist. So are students with high grades and high scores with no admissions angle, with no hook. Maybe they’re well-rounded, a college admissions no-no. There’s the legacy or development candidate…why outright reject a student whose parents donate in big ways to a university? At least let those parents think the school’s still considering their kids! What’s it to them? Colleges want those alumni parents to keep those donations coming. They can always use a new library. And, no, to that parent with no affiliation to a particular school who annoyingly calls and asks if their donation of such and such dollars will help their daughter’s case for admission, you’re not even near the ballpark of the figure that will help. In our experience, people significantly underestimate the size of a donation that actually matters to colleges (oh — and how you donate matters too…donating after a student has been waitlisted makes your motives way too transparent and will likely lead to your daughter never, ever getting off that waitlist). You think you can buy your way in? They’ll be happy to show you otherwise. That’s what’s going through their heads.

So who else gets waitlisted, you ask? Underrepresented minorities are prime waitlist candidates. Maybe their scores or grades fell a bit short. There’s the kid with great grades and great scores from a high school in which someone with lower grades and lower scores was offered admission (maybe the student with lower scores was an athletic recruit – hint hint). Colleges need to show that high school they didn’t simply admit that other student because of his athletic abilities. And while nobody buys that for a second, it’s the reason that student with higher grades and higher scores was likely placed on the waitlist.

You’ll never know for certain why you were placed in waitlist limbo. But this can give you a good idea so you don’t focus so much on why you were waitlisted in the coming days and instead focus on what you can do to effectively get off those dreaded waitlists.

Curious to read more about waitlist limbo? Read our Founder’s piece on “The Huffington Post” entitled “The Secret Sauce of the College Waitlist.”


You are permitted to use (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of Ivy Coach, Inc.


Tags: , , , ,


  • John W. says:

    Who gets waitlisted? Here’s a segment of applicants I believe you missed. I think in some cases, the university is calling an applicant’s bluff when they put them on the waitlist. “Are you using us as a safety school?” For example, between his parent’s undergraduate and graduate alma maters, our son is a legacy at three different Ivy schools. That information was known through the common app by any school our son applied to. Our son was accepted regular decision at one of those legacy choices and waitlisted at 5 other non-Ivy schools. I believe that 4 of the 5 waitlists were the college’s way of saying “We’d love to have you, but you are going to be difficult to yield. If you get admitted by any of your legacy schools, our bet is you will attend there, and not accept our offer. So we are going to call your bluff. If you really want us, stay on the waitlist after May 1st. We’ll take that as a positive sign.” (The 5th school was Pomona which, because of its ultra small size, truly is an Admissions challenge.) The other piece of information those 4 schools had was no record of a campus visit. We simply couldn’t visit every college our son applied to. In retrospect, those 4 “safety” schools were smart to waitlist him. They correctly assessed that based on his qualifications, our son would likely get admitted to one or more Ivies, and would favor that school over them. They protected their acceptance rate. Bottom line, I think colleges factor in “probability of matriculation” with some candidates when it comes to the ‘accept or waitlist’ decision.

    • Ivy Coach says:

      Of course colleges waitlist students who they aren’t sure would matriculate if admitted. It’s something we’ve written about in many posts over the years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *