It’s college decision time and disappointed teens are receiving news they have been placed on the college wait list. A wait list decision does not reject an applicant outright, but it also offers an uncomfortable level of ambiguity about whether an applicant will receive an acceptance to the college later. So how likely are teens to be taken off the wait list, and is there anything they can do to increase their chances?
The Odds of Being Offered Admission
The College Board offers wait list statistics for any college. The following are three compelling statistics taken off the website:
The University of Texas had 38,785 applicants in 2013. Of those applicants, 15,381 were admitted and 7,285 enrolled. They offered 769 students a place on the wait list; 213 accepted the place, and only 18 from that list were offered admission.
Stanford University had 42,167 applicants. Of those applicants 2,145 were admitted and 1,678 enrolled. They offered 958 students a place on the wait list; 695 accepted the place, and only 7 from that list were offered admission.
The University of Michigan had 49,776 applicants. Of those applicants, 16,047 were admitted and 6,505 enrolled. They offered 12,631 students a place on the wait list; 4,457 accepted the place, and only 91 were offered admission.
To see any college wait list statistics, click here, type the college name, and select “applying” for the specific college.
As you can see, the odds aren't good. And for highly selective colleges like Notre Dame and Dartmouth, the number of students being offered admission off the wait list is zero.
Reasons Why Colleges Use a Waitlist
Lynn O’Shaughnessy on The College Solution blog, explains the college’s rationale when using wait lists:
Schools use their wait lists as a way to manage their admission yield. They’d rather put more students on a wait list and pluck teens off as needed than accept more students and see too many of these teenagers spurn their admission invitation.
Schools want to be in control of saying, “No.” And when they say no to more students, they look more selective which appeals to families looking for elite schools. And U.S. News & World Report also rewards schools that reject more applicants.
One major reason why highly ranked schools are placing more students on wait lists because admission administrators are stressing out that ambitious applicants are applying to a very large number of elite schools and they can’t get a handle on which teens would accept an invitation to their school...
The wait list also allows some schools to generate more revenue by not offering financial aid to anyone rescued from their lists.
5 Ways to Get Off the Wait List
If you have your heart set on a college, there are five things you can do to increase your chances of getting off the wait list and accepted to your first choice college:
Send a letter ASAP to the admissions director emphasizing your unyielding desire to attend. State specifically why you think the match is a good one and highlight new information.
Call to see if you can arrange a campus interview. “Students who have been offered regular admission waitlist status are well advised to pay a visit by mid-April, perhaps with a set of recent grades in hand,” says Peter Van Buskirk, former Dean of Admissions at Franklin and Marshall.
Send examples of impressive work. This is particularly relevant if you have an area of special talent or if you have produced new work of which you are especially proud.
Ask a current teacher to write a recommendation highlighting your recent achievements. Ask teachers who wrote letters for you previously to send updates.
Ask your guidance counselor to write or call to make sure the admissions office is kept up to date with your grades and other achievements.
My advice—don’t gamble on the wait list. Playing the wait list odds is a bit like playing the lottery. Take a look at the other colleges that have offered you admission and keep an open mind. Students who place all their cards on the table for their wait list schools are often disappointed. Instead of playing the wait list odds, take a second look at your second choice colleges. If you haven't received a college acceptance, consider taking a gap year.