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  • Writer's pictureAlison Merzel

To stay or not to stay on the waitlist. That is the question.

You may have noticed that this year, in particular, colleges are handing out waitlist decisions like candy. It almost feels like "YOU get a spot on the waitlist and YOU get a spot on the waitlist..."

Why not just put these poor students out of their misery and just deny them instead? Well, as the number of applications to selective universities continues to rise, so too does the uncertainty of the admissions office.

Enrollment management is a balancing act - too many offers of admission can result in over-enrollment, leading to a whole host of problems (Virginia Tech ,Boston University). Yet, offering too few spots to fill the class can result in significant budget shortfalls when tuition revenue goals are not met. Therein lies the role of the waitlist. The waitlist enables schools to manage their yield - to track which students are accepting their offers of admission and to extend additional offers if they have incorrectly estimated which students will accept and which ones will decline.

If you get a defer or waitlist decision, you will need to decide whether to accept your spot. Some schools keep a very long waitlist only to disappoint most of the students who have kept their hopes up that a spot will open up. Others are more selective about whose decision will be deferred until a later date. If you are curious about historic waitlist trends, you can google the name of the school and "Common Data Set." Once you get there, section C2 "Freshman waitlisted students," will tell you the number of qualified applicants offered a place on the waitlist, the number of applicants who accepted a place on the waitlist, and the number of students who were ultimately admitted from the waitlist. This may give you a more realistic idea of your chances and whether it is more beneficial to just move on to the next school.

Take a closer look at the schools to which you have been offered admission. Try to attend their admitted student events. Do your research on the school and do some serious introspective work on yourself. Is there another option where you will be equally happy? If you did the appropriate research before you applied to identify several schools that would be a good fit, I bet you will find that there is another option that will provide an outstanding educational experience for you.

If you decide to stay, just be realistic. If you do get offered a spot, it may be close to the time when you have to move to campus. You may have missed priority housing deadlines and you likely will be forgoing a deposit you put down at another school. That is ok if in the end, you have your spot at your "dream school," but be prepared. These waitlist decisions continue to roll out after May 1st until the school has filled its class. They operate on the timeline that works best for them, not for you.

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