The Real Reasons Why Colleges Waitlist Students

Waitlists. Waitlists. Waitlists. I'm getting tons of questions from students and parents this week after a number of the highly selective colleges released decisions over the past few weeks. Saturday's Facebook Live session will be all about the May 1st Decision Day. Waitlist questions will certainly get asked and answered during our time together. As a preview to Saturday, here are some reasons why colleges waitlist students:

  1. Colleges need to have a waitlist as a backup plan in case they don't meet their enrollment target for the incoming class. By the way, few colleges are able to meet their enrollment target exactly on point as it is difficult to predict how many students will accept the offer of admission.
  2. Waitlists can be used to control the admit rate, especially for a college that wants to be viewed as highly selective. So instead of just admitting a student who is competitive in their pool who might have many offers of admission, they wait to see how interested the student is in them once waitlisted. If the student comes back to them ready to commit after being waitlisted, the college might be more willing to admit them off the waitlist as they know they have a better chance of enrolling the student. This is a way for a college to control their admit rate and increase their yield rate (the percentage of students who accept the offer of admission).
  3. Colleges often waitlist perfectly admissible students whom they know should be admitted. This is sometimes done when a less competitive student from the same high school is admitted because of athletics, fundraising potential, political connections or for another institutional priority.

  4.  If a college receives an application from a student who attends a high school or lives in a community that doesn't typically send applications their way, the college might waitlist the student if they are not admissible. Colleges don't want to discourage other students from the same school/community from applying in the future.

  5. Financial aid has huge implications for many colleges. If a college is need aware (they take "ability to pay" into consideration during the admissions process), they might waitlist a strong student who needs a lot of financial aid. Need aware colleges don't have the financial aid budget to fund all of the competitive students in their pool or they simply choose to spend their money on other things. 

  6.  Sometimes a college will waitlist a student who has the perfect application except for one thing - lower test scores. Waitlisting the student is a way the college can send a positive message to a student they are unlikely to admit.

  7.  If a highly competitive student doesn't show interest in a college (i.e. "demonstrated interest") because they believe it is a "safety" school for them, the college may waitlist the student. Colleges never want to be seen as a backup and thus they will pass up a highly competitive student for a slightly less competitive student if there is a higher likelihood of enrollment. 

  8.  A student can be waitlisted purely due to space. In other words, there could be nothing wrong with a student's application other than being in a very deep and competitive applicant pool. These are the students who have the highest likelihood of getting admitted off the waitlist if they follow up with a number of key moves. 

    Waitlists are used by colleges as a buffer, backup, and Plan B. Tune in Saturday to learn what to do if you have been waitlisted. There are successful ways to get admitted off the waitlist. Join me Saturday at noon EST on my Facebook page for more details.