What to do when you have the wait-list blues

Photo by Mark Olencki/Wofford College

The dreaded wait-list. You weren’t rejected, but you weren’t accepted either.

The wait-list means the colleges like you well-enough – they just don’t love you enough to accept you. They want to keep you hanging on until they find out if they’re loved back by the students they did choose to accept.

Your options:

  1. Hopefully you received an acceptance from another college that you like even better. Easy decision – inform the college that wait-listed you that you’re no longer interested and have made other plans.
  2. You were wait-listed by your first-choice school and you’d sell your youngest sibling to go there. Easy decision – you make a deposit at one of the colleges where you were accepted and let the college know that you’d very much love to remain on their wait-list.
  3. You can’t decide. Tough decision – you want to be done with this “college stuff” and know where you’re going next fall. But you’d really love to go to one or more of the colleges where you were wait-listed. You still need to make a deposit at one college where you were already accepted before May 1. You can choose to remain on one or more colleges’ wait-lists.

Choosing to remove yourself or stay on a wait-list seems to be more a psychological decision than a statistical one. The wait-list conversion to acceptance numbers, particularly at the most selective colleges and universities, aren’t very encouraging.

You can find out each college’s wait-list history on the College Board website, www.collegeboard.com. After you type in the name of the school, click on “Applying,” and for most colleges you’ll be able to their most recent wait-list stats.

One word of caution I always share with families: Wait-lists are notoriously non-predictive. Being accepted from a wait-list is tied entirely to the yield – the number of students who choose to attend.

As an example, if a college had a yield rate of 50 percent last year and it increased to 65 percent this year, I assure you they won’t be taking anyone off the wait-list; instead, they’ll be hunting for beds for freshmen. On the other hand, when the yield shrinks, the wait-list opens up; it’s just too variable to be predictable.

Students and families need to evaluate the impact of the stress on the student at this point in the process. Some care-free students just want to find out and approach the decision in a matter-of-fact easy-going manner: “If I get in, great, if I don’t, that’s fine too.”

But too many other students have already had their hearts broken once or even twice, if they were first deferred and then wait-listed. Unfortunately, many students take college rejections and wait-lists too personally and beat themselves up over it; many sadly thinking they have disappointed their parents, or that this rejection defines who they are. It doesn’t.

For many students, closure is a good thing. Let’s try to encourage them to make their best decision about the colleges that really want them and then encourage them to get excited about their new adventures ahead.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:lee@collegeadmissionsstrategies.comwww.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com