Waitlisted? What Do I Do?

Update: Read the article in the Wall Street Journal citing Aileen here.

“Waitlisting” is the somewhat maniacal act of admissions officers telling hundreds of hopeful applicants that they “almost made it in” to the schools of their choice. In actuality, a college places a given number of applicants each year on a waiting list and admits them if the admissions officers underestimated the yield for that year. The yield is the percentage of applicants who choose to attend after being accepted.  For instance, Swarthmore College has roughly a 40% yield rate, meaning if they accept 100 students, 40 of them will attend. Admissions officers are forced to play the numbers game when deciding how many applicants to admit for a given class.

At some schools, like the University of Delaware, there is a good chance that a waitlisted student will be admitted. This past year, nearly 25% of students who accepted places on the waiting list were admitted and half of them chose to enroll. However, at other colleges, particularly selective schools, only a few students from a waiting list of several hundred may be admitted.

So if the numbers are that dismal, should one simply give up? No. Definitely not.

The common advice touted by college counselors and admissions officers is often very basic – write a letter expressing interest in the school, keep your grades up, and update the college with any new awards or accomplishments. However, we at The Collegiate interviewed a student who was one of seven students out of two hundred admitted off the waiting list at Swarthmore this past year. This is what Aileen Eisenberg did:

Stated Commitment

Immediately upon receiving her decision, Aileen filled out the card accepting her place on the waiting list. While it is a card at Swarthmore, it may entail responding to an email or a website. This is an important first step that needs to happen in order to secure your spot on the waiting list. The next step would include a follow up email to the dean of admissions stating that if you were accepted from the waiting list, you would definitely attend.

Wrote a Personal Letter

Aileen wrote a very personal letter to the office of admissions expressing her genuine, personal interest in Swarthmore. She explained how out of all the schools she applied to, Swarthmore was the only school where she felt at home. Aileen wrote about her love for dance, tango specifically, and compared the college admissions process to finding an ideal dance partner. What really distinguished her was the letter’s sincerity. While she was waitlisted at several other schools, she wrote a letter like this one only to Swarthmore.

Maintained High Grades

Although most college counselors already recommend this, we want to emphasize that it is extremely important to maintain high grades. Although you might be tired, disappointed, and hurt, push through the academic year and finish strong – it can increase your chances of being accepted off the waiting list.

Contacted Regional Representative

Aileen told us that she contacted her regional representative about her predicament and wanted to know what else she could do in order to improve her chances of getting accepted off the waiting list.

Spoke with Alumni

Using her high school’s alumni services, Aileen contacted alumni from Swarthmore and asked them for advice regarding the waiting list. She was able to ask them about their experience at Swarthmore, which gave her better insight of what she could do in this situation. You can always contact your college interviewer for their advice on the predicament if you do not have high school alumni services or know other alumnus.

Prepared Herself to Attend Johns Hopkins

Even though Aileen’s first choice college was Swarthmore, she refused to allow herself to wallow in disappointment because she was placed on the waiting list. Instead, she enrolled at Johns Hopkins University and started getting excited to attend. No matter what steps anyone takes when waitlisted, the odds of being admitted are still very slim. At Swarthmore only 2% of waitlistees were ultimately admitted. Look closely at the schools to which you were admitted and enroll in the college that is the best fit for you. There is no one perfect college for anybody. Most likely, Aileen would have had a wonderful, albeit different, experience at Johns Hopkins. Every school has something unique to offer.

Have questions for Aileen or about the waitlist process? Contact Hope at hbrinn@thecollegiateblog.com.