College Admissions Waitlisting Students In Record Numbers

Apr 15, 2011, 13:19 by John Steele

High school seniors across the country have begun the process of making that final decision as to where they will attend college. But for an increasing number of students, they may be waiting long after they have hung that cap and gown back in the closet.

According to an article published yesterday by The Daily Beast reports that, due to a record number of applications, schools have relegated increasing numbers of students to the waitlist, where they are forced to watch their classmates get ready for college while they wade in the unknown.

This trend, experts say, is not due to a more studious crop of qualified applicants, but due to the most prolific seniors applying to more schools. This is causing college admissions offices to gamble that the most prosperous students will accept, leaving the rest to wait in limbo.

"The yield is more unstable than ever," says Henry Broaddus, dean of admissions at the College of William and Mary, which offered 3,246 students a place on the waitlist this year compared with 3,654 last year--both tallies a lot larger than years past.

The school enrolled 192 students off the waitlist last year. "That's high use of the waitlist for us, and there have been plenty of years in which we admitted few or none," says Broaddus. "At a certain point the admissions office starts to be less about using empirical models and more about behaving like a gambler."

Some experts point to the uncertainty in the economy as a reason for the jump in waitlists, with both colleges and families unsure of their decision-making.

"I think 2009 was the shift in the economy and that may have been the thing that prompted the expansion of waitlists going forward," says Jenny Rickard, chief enrollment officer at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, who notes that the school's waitlist jumped from 213 students in 2009 to 392 last year, and has settled to 320 this year for a class of only 365 freshmen. "There was more uncertainty in peoples' decision-making process."

The article, however, does offer some hope to seniors. If students want to continue to be considered on these bloated waitlists, a letter from the student telling the school you are still waiting to hear can go a long way. All you can do from there, the experts say, is move on to plan B.

"For many of the highest-achieving students, this is the first experience they have had where doing everything they are supposed to do doesn't always guarantee a specific result," says Broaddus of William and Mary. "This process is a microcosm of important lessons, which are repeated in life."

In other words, it's still a long shot so don't get your hopes up.