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Not Rejected, Not Accepted: Tips for Handling the Waiting List

April 6, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

While many students marked April 1 as the day they found out whether they were accepted or rejected to their first-choice colleges, many others were given a different response - placement to the waiting list. High school seniors are then faced with a tough decision. Should you take a risk and bank on placement at a school you're wait-listed at, even if you miss notification deadlines at schools you've been admitted to? Or should you cut your losses and inform the schools you've been wait-listed at that you'll be going elsewhere?

The waiting list generally benefits the colleges. The schools' administrators are able to wait until their own first-choice students make decisions on where they intend to attend, moving to those on the waiting list typically by May 1, once students' deadlines to notify the school of their choice have passed. The schools may also use the waiting list to fill gaps in their student population, according to The New York Times, offering eventual admittance to a student with a particular musical or athletic talent that the school had hoped to enroll in their first-choice pool.

Knowing this, it may seem like a risky endeavor to bet on a school choosing you out of the hundreds of other students on waiting lists. Still, many do choose to stay, especially at the most prestigious, private schools. At Yale University, for example, about two-thirds of students remain on the waiting list. (More than 900 were wait-listed at Yale this year.) Of those offered eventual admittance to Yale, a majority do choose to enroll there.

So what should you do? It really depends. Here are a few tips: 

     
  • If you know you won't be attending a school you're wait-listed at, notify them of your intentions right away. There's someone out there who does want that spot, and you may be keeping them from being placed at their top-choice school.
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  • If you know you're sincerely interested in the school you're wait-listed at, let the school know that. Notify them immediately that you intend to wait for their decision, and send admissions staff a personal letter on why you want to go to that school. If they're your top choice, tell them. If you know any alumni from the school, ask them to write a letter on your behalf. This is the stage of the game where admissions officials are looking at every piece of information coming in on an applicant.
  •  
  • Ask for an interview. You wouldn't be wait-listed if you didn't have the academic credentials to attend their school, so the admissions office will now be looking at other factors - extracurricular activities, outside interests, and whether your personality is a good fit for their campus.
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 While waiting lists are more common at private institutions where enrollment numbers are much lower and the unpredictability of students’ decisions about whether to enroll in those private schools is much higher, some schools have used the list as more of a strategy to deal with uncertainties in state budgets or over-enrollment. California's public university system is using waiting lists to deal with a record number of applicants this year and a state budget shortfall that has made it impossible for the school system to accept as many students as it had been admitting in year prior. This is the first time the state universities have used waiting lists, and students have until April 15 to remove their names from the lists or continue waiting until around the first week in June. Any new admittances will be determined by the outcome of the state's 2010-2011 budget negotiations.


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