The Hope Endures – More about College Admissions Waitlists

One parent of a high school senior likened college admissions waitlists to “the extended torture of hope”, wishing to simply to move beyond decisions and let the grieving begin. And, in some ways, the institution gains more from waitlisting than the applicant, having a reserve should their first choice candidates choose to attend another college. 

In the midst of the noisy cavalcade of thoughts, like “Why was I waitlisted not admitted?”, and the ever-present, academic meritocratic competitive one, “Why did so-and-so, who’s less qualified, get admitted?”, eventually, applicants (and their parents) wonder, “What are my chances of being admitted from the waitlist?” 

Well, the short answer is, “It depends.” 

Here’s how waitlists work

Step zero, students should be sure to opt into the waitlist, if still interested in possibly being selected for admissions. 

First, university admissions officers wait until May 1, the national deadline for accepted students to choose enrollment or not. Then, admissions officers assess whether the incoming class is at the targeted enrollment numbers. 

Second, only if the targeted enrollment is not met, then admissions officers will query the waitlists for candidates who match specific institutional needs, like a particular major. 

Third, after reviewing the curated listed candidates, plus any letters of continued interest, admissions officers may make an offer of admissions. 

Fourth, if a student is offered admissions from the waitlist, the student can decide whether to accept the offer of admissions, or remain committed to the college chosen by May 1. 

Steps two and three can repeat through the summer months, depending if a university’s admissions officers release candidates at a specified date. 

Candidates should also keep in mind that one university’s admissions officers’ waitlist offers can affect other universities. Once particular waitlist candidates are offered admissions and accept the offer at one university, then those students dis-enroll from other colleges, possibly provoking waitlisted candidates at the subsequent colleges to be admitted. And, so on…in a chain reaction.

Thus, as the parent shared, the “extended torture of hope” may continue as college admissions officers ping from one to another, like an old pinball game, until Fall 2023 targeted enrollments are settled. 

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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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