Making Your College Decision When There are Waitlist Offers

By Lea on April 7, 2020 0 Comments

Waitlist spots are offered to students because the number of highly qualified candidates often exceeds the number of spots that the university can open up at one time. Building a waitlist allows colleges to carefully manage their enrollment numbers and meet budget goals effectively. 

When considering waitlist offers, the most commonly asked question is “What are my chances of being offered a spot off of the waitlist?” 

As a general rule, the more selective the school the lower the chance that students from the waitlist will eventually be admitted. Unfortunately, data on the number of students admitted to a school from the waitlist varies wildly by school and by year. For example, in 2017 San Diego State University admitted 9 students from the waitlist, and in 2019 SDSU admitted 513 students from the waitlist. This is because there are a wide range of conditions that can impact how many spots might open up.

It’s also not possible to predict how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the decisions students and families make, especially given new and possibly unexpected financial strains, health conditions, travel restrictions, and considerations around online learning.

The best course of action remains what I recommend in any “normal” year: 

  • Conduct your final research, while being sure you understand the financial package(s) offered,
  • Participate in admitted student information “days” (now being held online), and
  • Find out the answers to the questions you still have (current students or recent alums are always a good resource and admissions officers are happy to respond to your personal inquiries). 

Then, try listing your top five college priorities (major course offerings, internships, community, affordability etc., or whatever yours might be). Use a 1-5 scale to rate each one for each of the college offers on hand. (Feel free to ask me for a copy of the spreadsheet I share with my students.)

Understandably, there’s some new COVID-19 related uncertainty and a bit more to think about this year. If you are unsure about how to respond to waitlist offers…you might need to dig a little deeper and ask yourself:

  • Why is the waitlist school the right school for me? Be very specific.
  • What opportunities are on offer that I could not find at colleges where I was admitted?
  • How will I contribute to the campus community if I am eventually offered a spot? Think about your strengths and interests.

These are the questions you should focus on answering. The answers can help you decide if you are willing to put a deposit down at one school and then still try your luck at playing the waitlist waiting game. If requested, the answers can also make a compelling statement of interest to secure a spot on the waitlist. Be sure to ask me about some other waitlist specific strategies if you decide to move forward on that front.

Finally, be honest with yourself. Even with a tantalizing waitlist offer at your top choice school, you can’t plan on those coming through. You still need to accept and secure one of the acceptance offers you have already received.

My best advice is to focus on what you love about a school and embrace one where you have been accepted…and buy yourself that sweatshirt!

(If indeed you receive a late acceptance offer at another school, you can always go back to the ranking list and re-consider.)

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