How COVID-19 may affect Fall 2020 college admissions waitlists

With so many unknowns, as the coronavirus rapidly spreads around the globe, admissions officers from around the US are sharing with Creative Marbles Consultancy they aren’t sure how to predict the enrollment for the incoming classes. Admissions officers are advising that waitlists may become even more vital to round out their incoming class, as they anticipate under-enrollment for the Class of 2024.

Every university’s administrators forecast enrollment for the upcoming school year, determining if less or more incoming students are needed to fill the student body. In typical application cycles, many college admissions officers create lengthy waitlists, which can serve as a hedge, where applicants who qualify for admissions to the university, although were not admitted over others due to a lack of capacity, are “waiting in reserve” to be admitted because not all admitted students will choose to enroll. 

For Fall 2020, waitlisted candidates may more likely be admitted, given enrollment forecasts are even more unreliable since college campuses have been disrupted due to the COVID-19 health crisis. Typically, admitted students are able to visit colleges, attend newly admitted student receptions, meet professors, attend a class and in some cases, stay overnight in the residence halls. They’re able to sample college life to build confidence that the potential experience at a particular campus will suit their needs. Yet, for Fall 2020, all “recruitment” programming will be done virtually and one East Coast based admissions officer at a private university shared: 

We’ve never had to do virtual yield [or the percentage of students who enroll from the admitted pool] programming, so we have no idea how effective it may be. 

In other words, admissions officers are unsure how many students will choose to enroll in Fall 2020, given they cannot engage students using traditional recruiting methods.

The admissions officer continues:

Also, this whole health crisis could affect the psychology of students and some may want to be closer to home for college, which could increase our number of students enrolling from nearby but also decreasing enrolled students from across the country/world.  

For colleges with a more national or international footprint, like University of Southern California or Northwestern University, garnering enough enrollment from just a regional pool may be more challenging. We all tend to choose what we know, and again, without being able to visit, a student from California who has limited experience on the East Coast, may be less likely to move across the country based on watching videos online. 

Additionally, parents, who also may be lacking experience in other regions of the United States, may be less willing to ship their children multiple states away, without stepping onto campus. The added expense of travel and living out-of-state, espeically for those paying additional tuition to attend public colleges where they’re not residents, can be more difficult to accept. 

Again, the admissions officer wonders:

Also, I imagine many families will be impacted financially by this crisis which could also affect their ability to enroll. 

Both students and parents may furthermore be likely to choose in-state public universities, where as residents, students receive discounts on tuition, plus will live in a known locale. Families may be less willing to commit to a more expensive college, given economic uncertainty.

In the words of the East Coast based admissions officer, “Bottom line, we just don’t know how all this [enrollment and yield] will play out.” So, for those with a contrarian view, who still perceive value in colleges where they’re waitlisted for admissions, the current situation may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend a college of their top choice for which they were originally not admitted. Therefore, students offered a waitlist position may want to more seriously consider when electing (or not) to select a position on the waitlist, as well as continue demonstrating their interest in a particular campus throughout the spring. 

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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