Waitlist pursuits: grit, sincerity and a bit of hope required

Call me crazy, but I love a waitlist.

Please, do not misinterpret!   I don’t love the fact that seniors are waitlisted every year.  But these decisions are part of the college application landscape, and we have to negotiate them.  I like the creativity and challenge these quests demand.

Waitlist offers aren’t going away any time soon.  Imagine, for just a brief moment, that you are the director of a college admission office . (David duKor-Jackson: does this raise memories of the recent past for you?)  Your job, as dean of admission, is to enroll a precise number of freshmen in the first-year class by May 1st–also known as Candidates Reply Date.  Do you presume that you will collect  hundreds of enrollments by the specific date without fail–as well as the accompanying deposits of six hundred dollars each?  (…In a fairly harsh economy, no less?)

Most deans who love their jobs would not presume this feat; they therefore depend upon a “Plan B”–that’s the waitlist margin, to use if and as needed.

Seniors  and parents, on the other hand, just want to be done with the application saga.  Most students desire a clear admission decision (accept or deny!) and wish to conclude the long sequence in early April.

That’s where we, the college office, come in with a last blast of energy.  Waitlists are an April reality.  If you look at them on the bright side, a waitlist decision presents a silver lining: one last chance, one last opportunity at X or Y College.  (I love that sense of possibility!)   I say:  let’s do our best to advance the cause! I don’t think we want to look back with a senior at a later date and wish we had utilized the extra inning represented by a waitlist decision.

Sincerity and regularity of contact:  those are the hallmarks of an MB waitlist plan over the course of six or eight weeks in the spring.   (Most colleges let Moses Brown students know what they are going to do with waitlist candidates in late May or before Commencement–rarely later. )

So, I know it’s a lot to ask a senior to forge ahead in the college process after all admission decisions have arrived. We know it’s hard for weary  parents to roll up their sleeves for another inning.  But we have had some nice waitlist successes in recent years (MB students have been admitted from places such as Harvard and Emory), and we would love to help any student who has a genuine desire to pursue a alternate list offer.  We have LOTS of ideas to share.

Pursuing a waitlist requires extra stamina and some hope.  There are, after all, no guarantees that an acceptance will emerge. Most admission deans, during the month of April, don’t have a clue whether they will utilize the waitlist.  That all depends upon the enrollment numbers just before and after May 1!

We also understand that pursuing an alternate list offer can be a a lonely road.  My husband, (an informal observer of the college office and process for a long time), recently noted that some seniors must be very aware that their closest friends are completely done with the college process (and celebrating a liberation from related tasks and deadlines), while their own search marches on.  In the college office, we provide support, resources, advice–and company during the last stretch.

by Helen Scotte Gordon


One comment on “Waitlist pursuits: grit, sincerity and a bit of hope required

  1. Waitlists are an interesting proposition, although as Scotte says frequently unwelcome. In most admissions offices, the waitlist is not merely a safety valve, but also a mechanism to put the finishing touches on the enrolling class. With the initial round of admission offers, there is an expectation for enrollment to come in under the target, because if you go over and don’t have enough beds or class space, there is undue pressure placed upon institutional resources. Not only is there no bonus for going over the target, it is highly undesirable. In many admission offices, if you don’t use the waitlist, then you probably did something wrong.

    In terms of selecting students from the waitlist, there are occasionally some areas to shore up in the enrolling class. Sometimes there is a desire for greater gender parity, additional geographic diversity or another few classics majors. At other times there is no specific niche that needs to be filled, except to identify some additional students who would really love to enroll. While you never know what the enrollment situation is, or will be until May 1 approaches, if you have a spot on the waitlist at a school that is highly desirable, (that you would prefer above your other available options) what harm can come from reiterating just how interested you are?

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