Still Waiting? Waitlists Are a Waste of Time

The number of waitlisted college applicants has increased dramatically in the past five years, leaving students clinging to a string of hope for virtually no reason.  

According to the 2017 statistics from the National Association of College Admission Counseling, roughly 40% of colleges use waitlists today, but 72% of the most selective colleges (those that accept less than half their applicants) maintain such a list. The schools contend that they need to keep their options open and insure full enrollment come September.  They claim that so many students ultimately do not show up on the first day of school and too many spots remain unfilled.

Last year, Boston college waitlisted 5,689 students and took 112; U. Michigan waitlisted over 11, 000 and took 470 and Williams College waitlisted over 2,300 and took 24.  This spring, Brown University has placed 2,724 students on the list and U. Penn has placed over 3,500 applicants on its list.  Because the number of institutions (of every size) utilizing waitlists has risen as well, some students wind up on five, six, or more wait lists!

18% On Average

According to data collected by College Kickstart from 163 private and public institutions, on average, 18% of students accepting a place on the waitlist were ultimately admitted. Nearly three quarters of the schools surveyed admitted 20% or less of the waitlisted applicants; 37% of the schools admitted 5% or less; and 11% of schools admitted no one off the list.

Admitting students from the waitlist can take anywhere from a few weeks to the entire summer although some colleges have given themselves a deadline: Harvard expects to be done with its waitlist by the end of June, Northeastern by July 1. 

Regardless of how long a student waits, the odds of getting off are slim to none. What's worse is that students get stuck waiting and do not fully explore the colleges where they have been accepted. At a recent conference of college admissions counselors, a key topic of discussion was the rise in the number of students who are unable to choose one college and place a housing deposit at several to hold a spot while keeping fingers crossed.