The Pros and Cons of Being Waitlisted

Published by Wendy Nelson on

Yesterday, my daughter and thousands of other applicants received their Regular Decision results from The University of Chicago.  She, along with thousands of others, was waitlisted.  It was another record year for UChicago – over 30,000 applicants for approximately 1,500 spots.  This was a 20% increase in applications over 2012, for the same number of spots.  About 10,000 of the applications were for Early Action (non-binding option where decisions are received mid-December) and only 13% of early action applicants were accepted.  Along with applications, the yield rate (number of accepted applicants who actually enroll) for UChicago is also up.  In 2012, it was almost 47%.

So let’s do the math.   I am going to assume yield of around 50% to account for a slight increase over last year’s yield to go along with the increase in overall applications.  For Early Action candidates, that would mean that of the 1,300 or so who were admitted, around 650 will enroll.  That leaves about 850 spots for Regular Decision candidates.  If approximately the same percentage of Regular Decision candidates are accepted (13%), that would mean out of the remaining 20,000 candidates who applied Regular Decision, plus whatever percentage of Early Action candidates were deferred to Regular Decision, close to 2,600 applicants would have gotten acceptances on Friday.  If around half of those enroll, UChicago would have over 2,000 students for about 1,500 spots.  I’m guessing UChicago is counting on less than a 50% enrollment rate!

That leads me to the Pros and Cons of Being Waitlisted:

Pros and Cons

Con #1  – In this year of record applicants at highly competitive schools across the country, your chance of being admitted off the waitlist is lower than ever.  Even if only 40% of all admitted applicants enroll, that should be enough to fill the class. On top of that, schools are putting a higher number of applicants on the waiting list, so there is more competition for any spots that do open up. From the little information I can find about how many applicants typically are admitted off the waiting list for any school, it looks like anywhere from 0 to 100.

Pro #1You weren’t declined!  UChicago reported in 2012 that they had waitlisted 3,000 applicants (a number that displayed a steady increase over the last decade to go along with the applicant increase).  Assuming the number is a little higher this year (let’s guess about 3,500), anyone who was waitlisted was still within the top 12% of all applicants!  You can take some comfort in knowing that you were at the top of the applicant pool, just not quite high enough to make the cut.  The school didn’t really say, “We don’t want you,” they said, “If we had more spots to fill, we would offer you one.”  When people ask whether you were accepted, saying you were waitlisted is better than having to tell them you were declined.

Con #2 – You didn’t really get in either.  Especially if this was your #1 school, your dream of acceptance didn’t come true.  Yes, you should be glad that you weren’t declined, but this outcome isn’t what you wanted.  You will need to find another school that you like equally well, or at least as a close second, and enroll there.

Pro #2 – You get to move on.  (This is the optimistic view of Con #2.)  Even if you decide to stay on the waiting list just to see what happens, you will be forced to pick another school.  You can turn your attention away from this one and invest it fully on the school you choose.  Then, if you are one of the lucky few who make it off the waiting list (usually sometime in May), you may even be over the waitlist school and want to stick with the one where you enrolled.

Con #3 – If you get accepted off the waitlist, and decide to enroll, you will lose your deposit at the other school where you enrolled.  

Pro #3 – If you do get accepted off the waitlist, you are not obligated to enroll.  You will still have the opportunity to decide if losing your deposit at “School B” is worth it so you can enroll at “School A” and evaluate whether you still really want to go to “School A.”

For my daughter, UChicago wasn’t really her “dream school.”  There were reasons why she really wanted to go there, but there were other reasons why she wasn’t so sure.  She is ok with being waitlisted.  She was happy she didn’t get declined and she is ready to move on.  Slowly, but surely, all roads are leading back to the school that we thought would be her best fit.

What about you?  Do you have any experience with being waitlisted?  If so, please share it for all those parents and students who have just experienced it for the first time or may experience it in the coming years as application rates continue to rise.



Vy · April 5, 2013 at 1:46 pm

I’m in the same boat as your daughter…I was waitlisted as well! I did accept a place on the list since UChicago was my top choice while I was applying but I feel unsure now. Sometimes, I wish they would have just rejected me outright so I don’t have to think about it…

    Wendy Nelson · April 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm

    Good luck to you! I heard that the actual acceptance rate was down to around 7 to 8%, so no matter what happens, you should still be proud of getting that far.

Susie Watts · April 6, 2013 at 10:45 pm

As a private college counselor, I think that waitlists just prolong the college admission process and leave students hanging for as long as they choose to wait. I always tell my students to commit to a school and assume that is probably where they are going to go. They need to have time to emotionally commit to a college in order to have a successful experience there.

    Lawrene Bottorf · April 21, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Love that advice…that is what we tell our client families as well. While U Chicago is a 100% need school, then if the family needs financial aid AND they are accepted off the wait list, that is GREAT…but most colleges run out of money…so for the wait list students, they are often sad when they find out that they can’t afford the school afterall.

John Doe · May 1, 2013 at 5:21 am

I’m in a similar situation as well! Wait listed at UChicago, NYU-Stern as well as Washington University in St.Louis- Olin. I’m doing IB so my finals start tomorrow. It would be annoying if I kept thinking about my wait lists and when they would reply, but for now I’m really happy to be going to USC-Marshall. Thanks for the advice! Made a lot if sense!

Janet · May 31, 2013 at 6:34 pm

My daughter has been through the wringer with waitlists. She was accepted at two great schools, and waitlisted at 6. University of Chicago deferred her from early admission, then waitlisted her and then the day before she had to commit to another school ( we held off just in case UChicago came through…) UChicago called and offered her a place in the 2014 class if she would take a gap year. She agreed, made plans for the gap year ( coaching debate at a rival high school) and we waited for the financial aid pkg. Two other schools offered her in excess of 40K for freshman year, and UChicago said her pkg would arrive shortly. I only wish it were so easy. The bottom line is that UChicago is not only looking at our family assets, they are looking at the real estate holdings of the grandparents- they think that we will somehow inherit so much money that we can pay full price for the UChicago education. The lesson learned is to absolutely not turn down a great offer from one school until you see the pkg from another. If UChicago will do this to us, a middle income family, that receives no income from a pass thru passive k1 FLP, they will do it to you too. Why did they call her and offer her a spot – because they knew that they were not going to offer her any financial aid due to the k1/flp, even in light of none of the assets being distributable.

    Wendy Nelson · June 1, 2013 at 7:55 am

    Wow, Janet! Thanks for sharing your experience. Since most schools exhaust their financial aid resources before accepting waitlist students, it would not have been surprising if they had offered her a spot for 2013. Since they are giving her a 2014 spot, she should, in theory, be first in line for 2014 financial aid. I definitely encourage you to negotiate with the financial aid office and provide whatever materials you can to show that you are not receiving these funds. I know of one family that had to provide the last 10 years of tax returns to a top school to show that they were not better off than they were claiming to be. You may have to be really persistent, but you have a whole year to negotiate! Good luck and congratulations to your daughter!

      Janet · June 1, 2013 at 11:33 am

      University of Chicago, like 25 other top/elite Universities, uses a “consensus” formula to distribute institutional funds. This formula is based off of the CSS profile but asks more in depth questions, and has a much more stringent “litmus” test to determine financial need. If you have any kind of assets in your family, even if they are not yours, getting financial aid is nearly impossible. Yes, they will meet 100% of your need, but only as they determine it. In our case, we are middle class, barely hanging on by a thread, selling our home of 23 years because we can’t float the mortgage any longer and our income is so low we can’t qualify to refinance. We have run down our assets hanging on to our home and as a result, we have great credit. But nothing else! If the K1 pass thru from the FLP (set up in the 80’s so the grandparents could leave any assets to the kids without inheritance taxes) was income or was distributable, we would not be selling our home or needing aid for a University education. I even consulted with a top financial aid company and they would not even take my 2500$ to fight this with University of Chicago because they have seen it before and they told me it is hopeless. And they did suggest that it could be that my daughter was offered a spot in 2014 because they knew they would not be offering any kind of aid. Yes, they say admission is need blind, but with all of the documentation they collect on the css profile and in the supplemental questions, they are very resource aware. I was hoping I made some colossal error that could be fixed, but I did not, and U of C is making a choice to not provide aid due to the fact that at sometime in the future the grandparents will pass and we will inherit real estate. Well, they are not dead yet and living off of the assets in the FLP and by the time they pass, there may not be anything left. Have you ever heard of a University doing this? It is a dirty little secret and I want everyone to know, so help me get it out there. Honestly, Chicago is speculating that we will inherit real estate at some point and won’t help a family with limited resources now? I still can’t get my head around this. The only thing I can do is make an emotional appeal by phone to the director of financial aid, and the experts wished me the very best with it and said to resurrect the other offers ASAP!

        Wendy Nelson · June 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm

        Not a fair scenario at all! I have not heard of exactly this kind of case, but I bet independent college advisors have run into it before. I would love to do profile on your daughter in a future post. Are you locked into the gap year or can she still accept an offer to start this fall at one of the more affordable schools? I know of other schools where the emotional appeal to the director of financial aid would probably work, but I am not sure if UChicago has any incentive to do that given their super-high application rates and super-low acceptance rates. I think you are right that they saw admitting her for 2014 as an opportunity to get full tuition. They may not have made the same offer if they were planning to heavily discount tuition for her. That’s the sad state of admissions at highly competitive schools these days.

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