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Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Monday, May 7, 2018
The Cruelty of The Waitlist
According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), in 2016, fewer than 23% of waitlisted candidates eventually got into four-year universities. At more selective colleges, that number was around 14%. These percentages don't seem particularly outrageous, until you consider the sheer size of waitlists at some of the country's most prestigious schools. It's a university habit that begs the question: why be so cruel?

A recent Inside Higher Ed piece examines the practicality of waitlists, their effect on hopeful students, and their usage by colleges as a strategic marketing tool. As a matter of practice, all universities admit more students than they have space for. They know not every student offered admission will accept, and their bottom line depends on filling all their seats. So, for example, Brown University's 2017-2018 freshman class had 1,719 students. This year, Brown admitted 2,566 students. So even if a full 847 students decline, they've met their goal. But there's more. They've put an additional 2,724 people on the waitlist. You need not be an actuary to figure out those odds.

The director of undergraduate admission at Boston College says of the waitlist policy, "To some extent, we want to be respectful of how hard [waitlisted students] have worked and how difficult it is to receive an outright rejection". And while this sentiment may come from the right place, isn't it somehow less cruel to just tear off the bandaid? With a waitlist offers coming out as early as March, and some universities not filling their rosters until late summer, doesn't it seem kinder to stop stringing students along?

It isn't just about filling seats, either. It is a premeditated marketing tactic designed to bolster the university's appeal to students and parents alike. A cynic might call it an act of stroking the consumer's ego. And to what end? There is little that waitlisted students can do to improve their odds. Letters of continued interest are a good start, but given the size of some waitlists, such letters may prove weak currency.

As a practical matter, the best course of action for waitlisted students is to accept offers from schools where they've actually been admitted. If, by miracle, they eventually get an acceptance from their waitlist school, they'll just be out the cost of their monetary deposit.


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