Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 5:25 am | Fair 48º


Lee Stetson: Understanding the Wait List Can Give You Power ... If Not Hope

Admissions process can be bewildering, but here's what you do if you're in, you're out or you're just waiting

As you have most likely received word from all of your schools of choice by now, the ball is in your court as you take the next steps. With the common reply date of May 1 rapidly approaching, I hope the following advice will help you in making your final choice.

Lee Stetson
Lee Stetson

If you have been admitted to your first choice of school and have decided to attend, congratulations! For many of you, however, there are still factors for your consideration. Perhaps you have been admitted to more than one school on your list. That will mean you are carefully evaluating your options and narrowing them down to your final choice.

One way to help you in making this decision is for you to spend some quality time on the campuses where you were admitted. Although you may have visited a campus previously, you are probably now taking advantage of what most schools offer their newly admitted class: “Admitted Student Programs.” When scheduling your visit and coordinating with the host school, you should arrange to attend a class or two and possibly stay overnight in one of the residence halls if you have not done so already. This experience will give you a better feel for the culture of the campus and to gauge the appropriateness of the school for you. If you have any specific academic or athletic interests, the Admissions Office will put you in touch with the proper individuals. Remember to talk to as many people as you can while you are there as they can provide you with invaluable information when you are being vigilant in your quest for the school with “The Right Fit.”

In my last article regarding financial aid, do bear in mind that some schools may be prepared to help defray costs and sponsor a trip to their campus for an accepted student according to their financial need. If you are an accepted student who has applied for financial aid and are in need of resources to attend, it is likely that this will have some bearing upon your final choice of school.

Please note that now is the time for your parents to talk with financial aid officers if questions and concerns persist regarding your award package. They should be prepared to discuss your financial situation as everyone on the financial aid staff is hopeful that you will enroll. Your admissions officer can be quite a valuable ally and mentor during your initial interaction. The Financial Aid office is often quite busy, and therefore it can be difficult to reach. Your admissions officer can serve as a direct liaison to their offices and direct you as to how to get in touch with the proper people.

Some of you may have been placed on a school’s Wait List. With the common reply date rapidly approaching, this can make you feel as though you are in a difficult position as you do not know where you stand on the list and may be wondering how to proceed. Let me try to help.

If your first-choice school has placed you on its Wait List, it usually indicates that you were seen as an admissible candidate but there was no space available; you are not “in,” but you have not been denied either. While this does mean that if a space becomes available you may be offered a seat in the class, it is important to bear in mind that the Wait List is not used in very many cases. In my estimation, the current national average for admittance from a Wait List is approximately 10 percent to 12 percent. Wait List numbers have also increased significantly in this past year.

While these are sobering facts, it is imperative that you still retain hope and follow all of the proper steps to ensure that you maximize your chances of procuring admission should space become available. You will want to let the Admissions Office know, if you have not already done so, that this particular school remains your first choice and that you would like to remain on the Wait List and would most certainly enroll if given the chance. You should also correspond directly with the regional admissions director or dean of admissions via e-mail to reiterate your interest and show your continued enthusiasm.

Leave a paper trail. Be dedicated in your follow-up but do not overdo it. Be aware, though, that while it will certainly aid your case to be in direct contact with the school, I want to emphasize the fact that Wait List decisions are very hard to predict. There is no prioritizing disclosed, but be secure in the fact that the offices are watching the responses and they may contact you as their class forms (following your response) to find out if their school is still a priority for you and if you are still ultimately interested.

Let me be sure to point out that if you are on the Wait List to your first-choice school but have been admitted to your second choice of schools, be sure to accept the offer of the latter! Do not wait for all Wait List decisions to come through before doing so. You do not want to miss the acceptance deadline, which is rapidly approaching, and you will want to secure your place as a part of this class. You will have to pay a deposit when accepting the school’s offer, and you should be prepared to pay it gladly if you attend or to forfeit it gracefully if you are accepted elsewhere.

In these times, it helps a prospective student to be aware that there’s never any guarantee of admission, which I am sure everyone is aware of now more than ever. The difficult part is that although there are more students applying now than in previous years, the size of the entering class, continues to remain the same. So what then is the determining factor that sets one student apart from the rest when the qualifications seem to be on par with one another? Unfortunately, there is no direct answer to this question and it is one I have been personally asked to answer many times. This is never more difficult than in the case of when a student has been denied admission and is seeking the answer as to “Why?”

The best place to start if you have not been admitted to your school of choice is to remember that given the selectivity levels of schools these days many well-qualified students are not being admitted. Despite this, I do realize this is a decision that is still difficult to internalize and that you may be feeling disappointed as well as hurt. Please realize that this does not mean you had any major flaws on your record or that you did not present a strong application as a prospective student.

In my years at the University of Pennsylvania, when speaking with families that had appealed a decision and after reviewing their cases very carefully, I found it very difficult, if not impossible, to find specific weaknesses in their personal profile that I could pinpoint as a reason for not being accepted. These candidates uniformly offered exceptional grades in an outstanding curriculum, test scores and extracurricular activities. While these attributes are valued highly, the reality of the admissions process reflects a lack of space and the fact that another candidate offered something specifically sought for that particular class at that point in time.

I hope you will find this information encouraging in the fact that it is not your record specifically, but also the records of those being considered simultaneously, which can affect the outcome of your admissions result. In a time of record new lows in acceptance rates — Penn is currently at 14 percent — there are record highs in terms of numbers of applicants. The applicant pool also now tends to be stronger than in previous years and, although the class size has not changed, admissions offices are being allowed the opportunity to be even more selective to accommodate the growing numbers. This also means that there will be many more outstanding candidates who are unable to be admitted, however.

It may be hard to believe right now, but I assure you that admissions offices truly enjoy admitting applicants and seeing happy students and their families. I am sure you will thrive at whichever college or university you attend!

Have a question about the college admissions process? E-mail it to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

— Lee Stetson is chairman of the Admissions Advisory Board for Global Education Opportunities, a private admissions counseling firm. He has dedicated his life to higher education, serving as dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania for the past 30 years. He was also a College Board trustee, and has authored numerous articles on the admissions process.

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