Winning the Waitlist Game

The college waitlist game, while stressful, can be quite fruitful if you attack the process right.

Was your child recently placed on the waitlist of a highly selective university? Maybe more than one waitlist? Are you anticipating your child will be placed on even more waitlists as we near the release of Ivy League decisions on April 6th? Are college waitlists all you can think about these days? If so, know that you’re not alone. Around this time every year, students who have been waiting for months for their dream colleges to render verdicts on their applications open their decisions only to learn the colleges have punted. But while many students feel dejected after being placed in waitlist limbo by multiple schools, we encourage these students to do happy dances. They weren’t denied admission. Many students were denied admission. Yet waitlisted students still have a genuine shot of earning admission and, in our experience, when students are waitlisted at multiple highly selective universities, if they play their cards right, they often earn admission to at least one of these schools.

College Waitlists Are En Vogue This Year

As Scott Jaschik reports for Insider Higher Ed in a piece entitled “Waiting Lists: What to Expect,” “The pandemic has led to a surge in applications at the most competitive colleges — public and private. The new applications include minority and low-income applicants who in the past felt unwelcome or who are attracted by the fact that many of these colleges were test optional for the first time. (Colleges that cater to these students struggled for applications.) Many of the top colleges also admitted large early-decision/early-action classes. The result of all of these changes is that predicting yield — the percentage of admitted applicants who enroll — is likely to be more difficult this year. And when colleges are worried about yield, they tend to rely more on waiting lists than they do normally. ‘I predict that we will see more waiting list activity this year due to the uncertainty institutions are facing around yield,’ said Angel B. Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. ‘With students applying to more schools, yet fewer unique applicants, enrollment officers are worried about whether or not students intend to enroll at their institutions. Students may apply to 15 schools, but in the end, they can only show up at one.'”

Why College Waitlists Are En Vogue

So, yes, many students are being waitlisted this year and we agree with the CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, an organization to which we are a member: colleges are waitlisting more applicants because they knew in advance they wouldn’t be as effective at projecting their yield. And why? Because when admissions officers at our nation’s highly selective universities are forecasting whether or not an individual student will likely attend, a key determinant — among other factors like their specificity in Why College essays — is whether or not they physically visited the campus for a tour and information session. With campuses closed and students unable to visit, admissions officers had to make predictions without this key data point. Of course, whether a student participated in a virtual tour and information session was included but attending a school from one’s living room just doesn’t require as much energy as visiting in person. It’s not as effective a gauge of interest.

Waitlisted Applicants Must Maintain Hope and Attack

Yet when students receive notifications that they’ve been placed in limbo, many give up home. So too do many of their parents. It’s something we’ll never quite understand. And why? Because waitlisted students absolutely have a chance of earning admission. We think of it as they’re running a marathon that is the highly selective college admissions process and they’re nearing the 22nd or 23rd mile. And now they give up? It makes no sense. Instead, you’ve got to fight, fight, fight. You’ve got to prove to each school that has placed you in limbo that they are your first choice. So how do you prove it? You prove it by sending them a powerful Letter of Enthusiasm filled with specific after specific about how you’re going to contribute your singular hook to that institution. We know. We’re being vague. Hey, what can we say…we’re a business. And one of our family business’ most delicious recipes is our unique recipe for how to approach writing a compelling Letter of Enthusiasm. One comment parents and students often say after hearing our students’ unique letters goes, “That is not at all what I thought a Letter of Enthusiasm should be. But now I get it.” We like to think of the waitlist season as a war. Each school is a battle, one that can be won. When a school places a student in limbo, you send in a powerful letter. When the next school places a student in limbo, you send in your next powerful letter. And so on. Attack after attack. And, yes, it’s absolutely ok to let each school know it’s your first choice. They don’t — and can’t — share information. But the task before waitlisted applicants is not to tell each school it’s their first choice. It’s to show them.

If your child needs help crafting a powerful Letter of Enthusiasm to a school that placed them in waitlist limbo, fill out our free consultation form, indicate waitlist at the bottom, and we’ll be in touch in short order. And, while you’re here, read what we have to say about sitting and waiting during this process.

 
 

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3 Comments

  • Mariah Knowles says:

    One of the things I have noticed on Youtube videos of “College Reactions”, is that MANY students are in major violation of the Restrictive EA and ED policies at the top schools. Lots of students are applying to an Ivy or Stanford and also applying to other private schools. Not allowed to do that! I just saw a daughter of a Stanford Professor show her decision letter from Stanford and Pomona. Both were Early apps and in direct violation of Stanford’s Policy. This really screws every honest kid playing by the rules and puts a potential admit on the witlist pile. I especially see the main abusers of the EA/ED policies being URM’s, but not just URM’s. Are they thinking they can get away with it by saying they are ignorant of the rules- or they just don’t care if they get caught? Who knows, but it is a big problem for those applying honestly and, unfortunately, is hardly ever caught and even less punished. This is especially bitter pill to all those souls on waitlists who may have had a spot stolen from them.

    • ErynL says:

      I noticed more mention of REA/ED “double dipping” on the various popular message boards for Fall 2021 cycle than I expected. It will be very disappointing if those who violated aren’t held to account, but I thought this was more often “rooted out” than not. Maybe Ivy Coach can chime in about the chance many of these applicants have of being found out and decisions rescinded.

  • ErynL says:

    Ivy Coach…. in this extraordinary admissions cycle where elite colleges are basking in the after glow of huge applicant numbers, do you think there is the also the double-edged sword about to slice through yields if many ‘on a whim” and “pie in the sky” admitted applicants don’t follow through? I have a sneaking feeling that May 1 acceptance deadlines won’t bring as rosy an outcome as elite colleges are assuming. I’m seeing a lot of kids on the boards getting accepted to multiple elites and many more saying they can’t make the financial numbers work (upper middle class with not a lot of “demonstrated need,” but clearly footing even 50% of the bill is unrealistic). Many in the applicant surge appear to not have considered realistic costs when having the extra time to fantasize about admissions. I even talked to some parents whose kids applied to elite schools and they didn’t even know! I definitely don’t think this is over for the waitlist.

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