More Students Placed On College Waiting Lists

By Staff

April 13, 2009

The economic downturn has caused many colleges and universities to place a record number of applicants on waiting lists, and experts are advising wait-listed students how to get admitted.

U.S. News & World Report notes that admission officers are anticipating that many accepted students might withdraw their applications for financial reasons or to be admitted to institutions they like better. As a result, a significant number of colleges and universities have increased their waiting lists so as to have a ready supply of students willing to fill any open slots.

The situation has created a mixed bag for wait-listed students: While admissions officers say they expect to accept more wait-listed students than in previous years, many students may not receive a final answer about their admissions until this summer. And increasingly, schools will be filling open slots using very different considerations.

At the University of Texas-Austin, admission officers will first endeavor to fill gaps in under-enrolled majors. Atlanta's Emory University will select students who express commitment to the school. But many private colleges suffering from endowment losses may very well give priority to those students wealthy enough to afford full tuition, as with Johns Hopkins University.

The fear that students will gravitate toward less-expensive institutions caused the University of Texas to create its first-ever wait list this year. Similarly, North Carolina State University added 300 students to its wait list, even though its tuition is a mere $5,300.

"Community colleges are much less expensive," explained Thomas Griffin, the school's director of undergraduate admissions, "so people who might be coming to us may be staying home."

The Washington Post advises wait-listed students vying for a slot in their first-choice college to push to be admitted in a thoughtful, friendly way. The article urges applicants to e-mail and write a letter to the school describing three qualities of the college that would add value to their lives, and to relate any recent successes.

But Forbes cautions that going too far can swiftly ruin any chances of admission. Rod Bugarin, a counselor and financial aid adviser at IvyWise, points out that it's a bad idea to overwhelm an admissions officer with sending daily candy or e-mails, which he has seen some students attempt to do with no success.

But others say that showing enthusiasm for a school can be a good thing. When Punit Shah received word that he was on Harvard's waiting list, he visited the school's admissions officer to explain why he would be a good selection. Soon after, he was accepted.

"The important thing was just telling him that I was interested," Shah noted. "Beyond that there's not much an applicant can do."

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