It’s no secret that the college admission landscape changes every year. Once upon a time in 1941, Harvard admitted 92% of its applicants, and it has been steadily declining since, reaching a staggering 4.59% acceptance rate as of 2018.
Over the last few years, application pools have become larger and thus more competitive. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) in its yearly State of College Admission report, the number of applications from first-year students increased by 7% between 2015 and 2016, and surprisingly enough, this trend shows no sign of slowing down.
With this kind of influx in college applications, few students remain strangers to the infamous waitlist. “From Fall 2015 to Fall 2016, the number of students offered a place on an admission wait list increased by 11 percent,” according to NACAC.
While competition on the waitlist is also brutal, schools have shown to accept more students from the list than ever before. Students are now applying to more colleges, so they usually get a wider range of options to choose from. As a result, the average yield (the amount of students who enroll) at schools decreased from 36.2% to 35.1% from 2014–2015, allowing the number of accepted students from the waitlist to increase by 31% on a national scale.
On March 28, I received the last of my college decisions. Out of the 18 schools I applied to—yes, I was one of those students—four accepted me, 11 rejected me, and five offered me a place on their waitlist. I decided to remain on all of them, and it was a roller coaster of emotions. Here is what I learned after being waitlisted by five schools:
1. What’s done is done
At this point, there isn’t much you can do to improve your odds of acceptance. You can’t rewrite your supplements, nor can you improve your GPA or extracurriculars. Forget about what isn’t or what could have been. Instead of adding more stress, focus and try to find new alternatives on how to stand out.
2. You have nothing to lose
Colleges won’t ask for much on their waitlist forms. Most will simply want you to indicate whether or not you would like to remain on the waitlist, while others may ask you to write a short essay on your interest in the institution.
I’m not insinuating you should annoy the admission office to the point where they don’t want you anymore, but don’t be afraid to show your interest. If you’re not satisfied with the information the college already has on you, elaborate on your passion for the school and your achievements since submitting your original application. Call them once every week or two asking about any updates. If you really want to attend there, let them know.
3. Patience is key
Larger schools like New York University will usually have a thread on College Confidential with other students in your situation. While this resource can be used for your benefit to know where you stand, it can also mess with your head. As much as we try to be happy for those who are getting accepted, it’s inevitable to feel anxiety creeping in. Is that it for me? Should I just give up? However stressful it might be, keep patience because otherwise, you’re adding stress that you don’t need.
My journey on the waitlist hasn’t been easy, but I’ve made peace with it. Although I’m keeping my fingers crossed to get into one of those schools, I decided to pay my deposit and enroll at the college that offered me the most financial aid.
My experience has taught me that I shouldn’t worry about what school I do or do not attend. Most often that has nothing to do with whether someone becomes successful in life—it’s what you do at your college that counts.
What do you want? What are your dreams? Even if you don’t know what they are, you should think of the things you like and are interested in. You should experiment and explore with them, because that is how one becomes financially successful, but most importantly, happy.
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