College bound seniors and their weary parents are now in the back stretch of nearly eighteen grueling months of the college application process. The fruits of all this labor come to a head on May 1st, National College Decision Day, when students make their final enrollment choices.
However, this decision-making frenzy may also begin the process for a lesser-known, much less endearing admissions classification: The Wait list. A college wait list can be viewed as a sort of student-purgatory – neither accepted, nor rejected, but certainly hellish. Herein lays the problem.
By May 1st accepted students must make a choice by surrendering an enrollment deposit to hold their spot in the class of 2021. Admissions departments and financial aid officers will soon discover if they have successfully hedged their bets in an attempt to correctly profile and fill the next incoming class. If they oversold the class, student housing staffs will be scrambling to find living alternatives near school or serving incentives to upperclassmen to move off campus. If they have undersold the grade, they will be answering to the Board of Trustees and possibly going to the wait list. In my humble opinion, the true understanding of the wait list concept is rooted right there in its name.
Students almost worthy of admissions are held behind the ropes to wait and see if someone better comes along. It’s like being on the B list for a party. No one wants to be there. I believe the college wait list is nothing short of a direct byproduct of the admissions hedge. It’s a tease.
Do esteemed universities ever pluck students from their wait lists? Of course they do, the data is just a Google search away. However, for the students faced with an “invitation to remain on the wait list” this can be a soul-searching, gut wrenching experience.
I grimace when faced with having the wait list conversation with seniors and their parents. There are no good answers; there is no solid professional advice. Having to place an enrollment deposit down on one school while holding out whisper thin hope for another, leaves students feeling as though they have settled for second best. They should be buying the car sticker, ordering the sweatshirt, but, instead, they languish in limbo. It’s a systemic problem driven not by academic competition or merit, but institutional fiscal factors.
For the minuscule percentage of college freshmen that will be admitted from wait lists, I applaud your mettle and your good fortune. For most students the wait list is just the evil twin of rejection and should be kept at arm’s length neither to be celebrated nor embraced.
Christine G. is a mother of two and a Westchester County, NY-based high school college counselor. She has often had to step back, take pause and heed her own advice. With one child out of college and the next one set to graduate with the Class of 2017, Christine has been elbow deep in the college process for nearly a decade.