College Waitlist Leverage

Ahead of the traditional, widely accepted national enrollment deadline of May 1 for first year college students, although some colleges have extended the enrollment deadline to June 1 due to the COVID-19 health crisis, college admissions officers are already extending offers of admissions to waitlist candidates. I contacted two different admissions officers on the West Coast and another in the Midwest, who both acknowledged they made waitlist offers earlier than normal. Admissions officers may be making a last minute attempt to add more students to their enrollment for Fall 2020, as we predicted in March

The total number of accepted students who choose to enroll in a university, thus paying tuition and generating a significant portion of a college’s revenue, is an important number for college admissions officers to monitor.  In a recent survey, 90% of college presidents reported that declining enrollment in their university is one of their top three concerns. Since many colleges are already reporting growing fiscal deficits related to additional expenses of closing campuses this spring, students enrolling for Fall 2021 helps the university not incur more fiscal loss.

To see the full graph, reference the Responding to COVID-19 Crisis, Part II: A New Survey of College & University Presidents, A Study by Inside Higher Ed & Hanover Research, April 2020

Additionally, last fall, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling board members changed the ethical rules for recruiting students, creating additional complexities to enrollment. Colleges can continue recruiting students, offering additional incentives, like merit scholarships or priority class registration, even if the student is already committed to enroll or attending another college. In the uncertainty, college admissions officers are changing their recruitment strategies to secure enrollment, as highlighted in the Washington Post recently.  

As college admissions officers navigate the current, extraordinary circumstances as well as develop new recruitment processes for incoming students, universities may be changing the dynamic between student and university to a more consumer-oriented relationship, rather than assuming demand for college will continue unabated, as it has for the past five decades. In such a shift, newly admitted Class of 2024 students may have greater leverage in the admissions and enrollment process than in past admissions cycles. 

Since 2003, Jill Yoshikawa has advised thousands of families about their complex educational decisions, including the college admissions process. Contact her at

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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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