Admission Decisions And Waiting Lists

It’s Monday, March 29 and as of today the majority of colleges in America – public and private, small and large, highly competitive and those who offer admission to over 75% of applicants – have released decisions to Fall 2021 applicants. That said, not all have. Vanderbilt will release decisions later today and Ivy League institutions will not do so until April 6. Of the three decisions students can receive, accepted (yay!) and denied (ugh!) require no explanation. Then there’s this: “We invite you to accept a spot on our waiting list.” What the heck does that mean?

Ok, most of you know what it means. You’re being told no, not yet and perhaps not ever, but you’ve still got a chance. That chance is almost always exceptionally small, though how small varies from year to year.

So what about this year? Scott Jaschik, the editor of Inside Higher Ed, surveyed admission deans about the role waiting lists will play in 2021 in a piece published today in Inside Higher Ed. Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admission at Georgia Tech and co-author of the book The Truth About College Admission, offers some great advice on how students might approach their waiting list options while also, in wonderfully simple terms, explaining why waiting lists exist in the first place, in a post published last week on the Georgia Tech Admissions Blog.

“What about you, Mr. Marlowe-Rogers? Don’t you have any personal insight you would like to share about waiting lists? How does one go about being admitted off of a waiting list? What should I do to convince a school to admit me?”

I managed the waiting list at my prior institution so of course I have personal insights I’d like to share. Are you ready? Here goes – it depends! It depends on the school that added you to their waiting list. It depends on whether you truly want to attend that school. It depends on whether enrolling at a school that might offer you admission off of the waiting will hinge on whether they also offer you need-based or merit-based scholarship funding. It depends on how that school manages their waiting list process – while there are general similarities on how the waiting list process is coordinated from school to school, there are often differences as well. The biggest difference, however, is you, the student, and what being offered a place on a waiting list means for you within the context of other decisions you have received.

Because students are different. Because schools are different. It depends!