Colleges turn to feared wait list

By Rebecca Penzias
Published: April 2008

Instead of being accepted or rejected by schools this year, an unusually large number of Newton South seniors are in the most dreaded sort of college limbo: the wait list.
According to South’s College and Career Councilor Barbara Brown, a combination of record high numbers of applicants and a high number of applications per student is behind the waitlist phenomenon.
As the numbers of applications grow, colleges fear that they may enroll more students than they have capacity for. Because applicants are considering more and more colleges, however, schools also fear undershooting. This all makes it increasingly uncertain for colleges to know just how many students will show up in September.
Only a very small percentage of waitlisted students usually get accepted. According to Brown, most schools with less than 2,000 undergraduates don’t even use their waitlists.
The number of applicants on waitlists who are ultimately admitted often varies from year to year. Macalester College, for example, admitted 30 to 60 applicants from the waitlist every year between 2005 and 2007. From 2001 to 2004, however, Macalester only admitted six total.
Senior Charles Li was waitlisted at several of his top choice schools. He was, however, accepted by New York University
“Basically, I’m in purgatory, he said. “Do I enroll in NYU or do I wait to see if I get in a school that sounds slightly better?
Senior Siddhi Krishna was waitlisted at several of her top choice schools. She advocates applying early decision, a decision she is somewhat regretting not making, in light of the increase in regular applicants.
“I think [applying early] is something that every junior should consider, she said.
Selective schools such as those in the Ivy League have posted record low acceptance rates this year due to these demographic trends. As more and more students apply to college, these selective schools have to turn more and more away.
Harvard University only accepted 7.1 percent of its applicants this year. Yale and Princeton University accepted 8.3 and 9.25 percent, respectively.
Small, selective liberal arts colleges also turned away many this year. Amherst College only accepted 14.2 percent, down from 18 percent last year. At the same time, it received a 17 percent increase in applications. Swarthmore College’s acceptance rate fell from 17 percent last year to 15 percent this year.
In addition, Harvard and Princeton’s elimination of early admittance programs has keeps the thousands who would have been accepted early still in the regular acceptance pool, further increasing competition.
Fortunately for sophomores and freshmen, the number of applicants nationwide may be hitting its peak. This year, around 3.32 million seniors will graduate high school in the US. While 3.33 million are expected to graduate next year, experts expect the trend to level off in coming years.
Students have to send in their the deposits to their chosen school by May 1. If they get in off the waitlist at another school and enroll there instead, they lose that deposit.
College councilors encourage students to put down a deposit at their second-choice school and write to their first-choice school to declare a continued interest to attend. Colleges also encourage those on their waitlist to put down a deposit in another school, in case they don’t get in off the waitlist.

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