You finally get that email from your dream school, but instead of digital confetti, you’re greeted with a notice saying you’ve been waitlisted. Fear not! I promise you it is not the end of the world!
First and foremost, know this is not a rejection of you as a student. Spots on waitlists are only offered to qualified applicants. The school is quite open to having you and thinks you would do fine if you attended. Otherwise, you would have been rejected. In addition, this year (2020-2021) has been a particularly tough admissions year so making it on a waitlist is no small feat. Schools that waitlist are usually schools with lower yield rates (the percentage of accepted students who actually choose to attend) or that are highly selective. Selective schools in particular saw a huge uptick in applications this year. The elimination of test requirements at many institutions and the inclusion of last year’s seniors who chose not to apply at the beginning of the pandemic created an abnormally large and competitive applicant pool. For example, Harvard saw a 57% increase in applications from last year!
How Do Waitlists Work Anyway?
Schools have a certain number of spots available for each freshman class. They predict their yield rate before applications come in and keep a waitlist of students in case the rate is lower than predicted. Though waitlists are sometimes ranked, schools usually make choices about who to admit based on what their needs are for the freshman class community after students have made commitments. For example, if women or computer science majors are underrepresented in the freshman class, the school will be more likely to reach out to people who meet these needs. Waitlist decisions are released throughout late spring and the summer.
Decide what you want to do and let them know either way. If you figure waiting does not make much sense - understandable given the fact the school won’t let you know until after commitment decisions (and monetary deposits) for other schools are due - let them know.
If you do want to wait, in addition to any formal means of notification, send an admissions representative a letter. You will likely only be interested in doing this if this school is your first choice so make that clear to them! You want to highlight achievements and other positive developments that have popped up since you applied as they won’t know about them. But it should go without saying that you should continue to excel in and out of school in the meantime. Remember that universities can request second semester grades!
What About Other Schools?
Regardless of whether or not you choose to wait on a waitlist decision, you need to move as if you were not accepted to the school in question. The commitment deadlines for other schools will likely pass before you receive a decision. You never want to risk putting your eggs in one basket so choose another school you can see yourself attending and commit to attend. Do everything you would do if you were 100% certain you were going including attending information sessions and orientation programs. Hopefully your list of schools was balanced enough to ensure that you’d be happy at any of your choices!
Of all the choices available to you, we would like to know why you want to attend Essentially Awesome Person University. Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and/or area of study?
One of the schools you apply to will probably ask you to write an essay answering some version of the prompt above. Makes sense. Most schools get far more qualified applicants than they have spaces for every year. A peek into your mind’s reasons for choosing them is a useful tool for sniffing out students who will make the best use of their resources in the long-run. Answering this prompt can be enlightening, challenging, and even fun, but you need to be intentional about getting the most you can out of this essay.
Why Us? vs. Why College?
This is the biggest issue I run into with students. They would be “honored” to go to a school because it has “hundreds of courses, an [insert beloved part of your identity] Students Association, the chance to study abroad, and a mission statement they believe in.” Duh. Most schools have these offerings as of 2021 so you aren’t really explaining why you want to go to Essentially Awesome Person University specifically, just college in general. Writing like this can actually hurt you because it makes you look like you’re willing to make a big decision without doing adequate research.
You want to make the case for why this particular school is one of the ten you chose to apply to out of thousands of options. Use facts that are specific and unique to the school. A helpful framing to keep you focused on this is to invite comparison into your essay. What are you getting from this school that you can’t get from other schools in the area? Or on your list? Or with similar departments for your area of study?
“While other schools have X, EAP University stands out because…”
It’s important to point out that you should be doing this anyway. You don’t want to waste your senior year applying to schools that are not a great fit for you. You should research all of your choices, including safety schools. There are indeed patterns and weights schools use, but the truth is, the process is still often very subjective and you don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t want to be stuck going to a school you know very little about!
You will also need research to provide clear examples of why you are interested in a particular school. In addition to general research, try to find things that make the school unique. Some examples:
Courses you may not find elsewhere (Not Engineering 101!)
Class/Teaching Options (e.g. small class sizes, project-based learning, internship courses, etc.)
How students interact with one another
Clubs not offered elsewhere or that may be run in a unique way
Overall ranking or ranking for your major’s department
This seems like an obvious piece of advice but I always verbally ask students writing a Why Us? essay why they want to go to the school in question, and they often tell me things that aren’t in their essay. You’re better off telling a school a well-written, nuanced version of the truth than a stale version of what you think they want to hear. Trust me when I tell you that it is very very very very very easy for admissions readers to tell the difference.
Tell Your Story
It is important to not only be specific about how the school stands out from others in general, but also about how it is uniquely positioned to help you on your personal journey toward adulthood. How does this particular school help you reach your goals? It is ok if you are not 100% sure about what you want to do for a career (plenty of adults are in this position!) but you can at least think about how the school will help you become the kind of adult you want to see in the mirror ten years from now.
With the Coronavirus closing schools and colleges across the United States, it can be understandable for students and their families to feel anxious, which is why I want to take some time to talk about what's going on for current seniors who are receiving their admissions decisions over the next few weeks along with the juniors and sophomores who face a bit more uncertainty on how to proceed in the months ahead.
First, let's talk about high school seniors. This is terrible timing. I'm sorry you guys are going through this. Not only will this potentially affect your senior activities like prom and senior trips as well as other traditions, but this may also affect your decision on where and how far you want to venture for college. While many colleges have canceled Accepted Student Days and onsite campus visits, colleges are working hard to make themselves available online via 1-on-1 Zoom calls, virtual events, and tours.
You may also be worried about trying to make your decision by May 1st which has traditionally been College Decision Day. How can you make a decision when you haven't had a chance to visit the school? Admissions hears you and more and more are updating their Decision Date to be June 1st with the hopes that our country will be running again by then. To check out the full list as it is being updated, click here.
Next, let's talk about the juniors as there may be quite a few thoughts on your mind. For some of you, the SATs or ACTs were canceled this past weekend. Then you found out that CollegeBoard just canceled the makeup test for the SAT for later this month as well as the April test. The ACT just postponed its April test to be in June. Then there's the question of AP exams and subject tests. I get it...there's a lot of moving pieces.
First, take this time to prep for your later test. You have been granted more time to study for them. Many educational resources are free for these next few weeks and months, including the mini-workshops I will be giving for free on my Parents Passionate about College Admissions Facebook page. Take advantage of them.
There will be tests in June, August, and September, so you have more opportunities ahead of you. Testing companies are going to try to do the right thing.
Next, know that admissions and educators are trying to also do the right thing and some have already announced that they will be going test-optional for the upcoming admissions season. You can also help reduce your stress by balancing your list with some test-optional schools. You can find the list here.
Now, how about all this 'free' time you guys have now? First, spend it taking care of your health and that of your families. Most high school students are overworked and sleep-deprived. Catch up on sleep first. Your body will thank you. It will also help you stay healthy.
Next, take some time to think about all the things you've wanted to do but haven't had a chance to but can still do virtually. Here's a few to get you started.
1) Help your community. While it is encouraged to stay at home to flatten the curve and only run out for the necessities, think about how you can help your local community. Do you have elderly or immune-compromised neighbors? Can you help do their grocery shopping for them? Love kids and are not sick? Perhaps you can offer free childcare for people who have to work, like doctors and nurses or those that need to be working at grocery stores and pharmacies.
2) Explore your intellectual interests. Here are 450 free Ivy League courses, plus you can also check out Coursera for free courses.
3) Spend some time indulging in your personal interests. From listening to free opera from the Met to learning how to draw, follow your heart and see where it leads. Perhaps you'll find a new passion, like cooking.
4) Work on the college admissions process through taking the time to research your college list and major more. Spend more time building relationships with your teachers, counselors, and colleges virtually. Get a head start on your personal statement. The prompts are out for Common App.
5) Connect. Connect with your loved ones. With Facetime and the internet, being physically separated doesn't mean you can't grow closer with the ones in your home or ones that are not nearby.
What are you planning to do? Wishing everyone good health!