Boarding school and university decisions have been coming in of late creating a level joy, worry, and sadness. It is a complex time for students seeking admission to a new school no matter where that may be. Along with all the letters that are in a flurry, there also exists feelings of expectation, hopes and dreams. Emotional overload can and will play havoc on all in the application process.
Let’s talk about one set of decisions that create the most curiosity – The Wait List. This is the one reply that leaves every student in limbo – neither good nor bad but still in anticipation. What does Wait List mean and what next steps should be taken if you are in such a conundrum.
Schools employ Wait List for a variety of reasons and purposes. Basically, the school really likes you but just does not have the space to accept every student they like. But you are very close. Every school accepts more students than will enroll. Why? Schools know that students have a wide variety of reasons for applying to a school, and those students obviously apply to more than one school. No doubt, every student asked would say, “If accepted I would come!” The reality is that students have their own ranking and ideas about where they want to attend the next four years of their education. Since schools cannot see in the minds of every student, they also employ detailed analysis of their historical acceptances and matriculation of students. From that data, they will over accept and hope that they come out even. Meaning that the right numbers of students accept their offer and come so that they have space in the dorms and classrooms. It entails a high level of calculus to manage this correctly.
If they come out wrong, they have a problem. Too many students coming places a burden on facilities, classroom experience and the overall environment. Too few students and the school employ this thing called Wait List. Not only do schools need to have a Wait List, they want to have one for a variety of reasons.
Before we dive too far into this, we have to remember that schools want to have 100 percent Yield; that means for all the students they admit, they want 100 percent of the students to accept the offer. Why? An empty school is not good. But also, for the highly sought Ranking. One of the criteria which helps raise a school’s profile is the higher percentage of students who come. Higher Yield equates to an increase in the school’s ranking. No school ever has 100 percent Yield by the way.
So why do they want a Wait List? Since schools cannot accept all the students they really want, some schools actually look to the Wait List as bringing high quality students they could not admit in the Regular Decision offer. We also have to remember that there are factors that always remain the same – the quality of the student they admit adds to the classroom and community experience, but also maintains a sector in Ranking. SAT scores, GPA, and extra-curricular engagement are all things schools taut in the Ranking Survey.
The good, bad and the ugly of Wait List’s
Students often think Wait List is a dead end. But the reality is that there are too many variables for a school to truly know if they will be full come September. So, not all Wait Lists are negative, but they do add some uncertainty. A student still needs to wait to learn if they will finally get that coveted letter. Is there a possibility that a student will be accepted off the Wait List? Does it ever happen? Yes, it does.
Here is the bad. A student may not hear back until very late in the summer. Think of dominoes when considering how the Wait List works. Schools make offers, students accept offers, places come available and some students will choose to go, others will choose their current school. Schools keep admitting until they have 100% enrollment. Sometimes, the dominoes keep falling even into July. At which point, particularly for international students who need F-1 Student Visa, this can be very tricky and perhaps impossible to be able to go through the visa process and still make it to school on time.
Now here are the bad and the ugly. Schools employ a variety of philosophies to what Wait List means. For some it is an honest hope they will be able to go to the Wait List. Some schools rank their Wait List pools and others go back and review students and offer to the best choices that have decided to stay waiting. Some schools however use Wait Lists as, “We liked you, but sorry.” This is the, “Second Place should make you feel good, but we are not going to look at our Wait List.” It is the Consolation Prize of admission.
The problem is, students do not know which way the school is looking at students. Leaving a good, bad or even ugly feeling about the application process. But here is what every student needs to do:
- Students MUST accept ONE school’s offer by the deadline. Students need to secure a place even if they are on a Wait List. Which means accepting the offer, paying the deposit and selecting housing, if that is an option.
- If there are schools that students like better and are on the Wait List, then students should accept to remain. It does not make sense to accept every offer.
- Do further research on the school you selected to attend, you may find that it is actually better than you thought. Often students realize that even though they are on the WL at one or several schools, they actually have fallen in love with that school.
- For those schools you have chosen to remain on the Wait List, you may consider writing an email – no more than one page — about why you think you fit their school from an academic, personal and social point of view. Remember that schools want students who will fit their school and will matriculate.
In the meantime, good luck and remember, keep an open mind.