Waitlisted Students Should Always Answer Their Phones

Originally Published on May 4, 2020:

It’s the case in 2023, just as it was the case in 2003: America’s elite colleges tend to notify applicants of their admission off waitlists not via email or snail mail but via phone. While some schools send email notifications, most of our nation’s elite schools notify waitlisted candidates via old-fashioned phone calls. Wondering why?

Admissions Officers Notify Waitlisted Students of Acceptances via Phone

This is an old-fashioned black telephone with buttons to press.
Admissions officers often relay waitlist acceptances over the phone (photo credit: Jonathan Mauer).

Admissions officers often call waitlisted students to inform them that they’ve earned admission off waitlists for three reasons:

  • They’re human! Admissions officers are human beings. It’s exciting to be able to deliver a young person news that can change their future, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.
  • Fast delivery. Admissions officers can ensure the message is delivered rather than lost in spam (yes, we’ve had students whose offers of admission off waitlists have been filtered into spam).
  • The immediacy of response. Students accepted off waitlists often agree to enroll on these phone calls. And that’s the goal of admissions officers — to get students to accept their places in the incoming class.

Waitlisted Candidates Should Answer Phone Calls from Unknown Numbers

Let’s share an example. In a New York Times piece on colleges tapping college waitlists by Anemona Hartocollis and Dan Levin, they detail the story of a high school senior in Albany, New York, who learned of her admission off Rice University’s waitlist via phone.

As they write, “When the Rice admissions officer called from Houston, Ms. [Tiffany] Tang said, she looked at the unfamiliar area code and almost did not answer. ‘But I did, and it was definitely just a really happy surprise,’ she said.”

When a College Asks If You’re Still Interested, Show Your Enthusiasm

Sometimes, when admissions officers call waitlisted students, it’s not to offer them a slot in the incoming class at that very moment. Instead, it’s a precursor to an offer of admission. Essentially, the admissions officer is trying to determine if the student is still interested in earning a slot off the waitlist (otherwise, they’ll offer the place to the next person down the list since waitlists are typically ranked).

On such calls, students must express their continued interest in attending. Their enthusiasm will go a long way to securing admission off that waitlist. In Ivy Coach‘s experience over the last three decades, students who show e


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