Do college waitlists help high school seniors?

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

For popular schools swamped with applicants, college waitlists can be a part of the admissions process for several institutions. Baylor University, for the fourth time, has announced its own waitlist for this upcoming year. Instituting a waitlist can be both beneficial and a hindrance to the high school seniors that find their names on it. Leaving students in the limbo of not being accepted nor rejected can often bring frustration to applicants.

Jessica King Gereghty, assistant vice president of undergraduate admissions at Baylor, said a waitlist is a tool geared around helping institutions meet class goals for the new year.

“Schools will often use this option to put a student on ‘hold’ while they get a better sense on what decisions the admitted students will make. Each institution has a variance tolerance in terms of class size,” Gereghty said. “One institution could over or under enroll by 5 to 10 percent with minimal impact to the overall operation of the institution and another could be exceptionally reliant on enrolling the exact right number of students. So, a waitlist is really important for the enrollment team so that they can have the best chance at enrolling the right sized class.”

Some colleges that utilize waitlists let in few to no people at all.

According to NPR, in spring 2017, Dartmouth College’s waitlist offered 2,021 spots, of which 1,345 applicants chose to remain on the waitlist. Not a single person on the list was admitted into the university. Similarly, the University of Michigan waitlist offered 11,127 spots, of which 4,124 applicants chose to remain on the waitlist. Only 470 were admitted into the university.

40 percent of colleges in the United States use a waitlist to some degree, according to 2017 data from the National Association of College Admission Counseling. Thousands of students across the country are subject to having one of the biggest decisions of their life hang over their head.

These students find themselves in precarious situations. Some of them stop exploring all of their college options because they are convinced they have a chance to get into their waitlist choice school.

Waitlists can also serve as a problem for low income students. Some of these students rely on a certain level of financial aid from many institutions in order to attend. With the way some schools operate their waitlist systems, those students may lose out on necessary aid because they got in to late or not at all, and those who eventually did not get accepted could be too late in responding to a different school they were already admitted to.

With that being said, not every school’s waitlist has these pitfalls. Baylor, for example, makes a point to give a decision to the student by May 31 to avoid some of these issues.

“We will admit students from the waitlist as soon as we know we have space available, but we commit to giving students a final decision by May 31,” said Jennifer Carron, associate vice president for enrollment management at Baylor. “This allows us to see exactly how many students have deposited by the deadline.”

Carron also said Baylor chooses to use a waitlist at times because it gives the university more time to see if students already admitted are submitting their deposits at traditional rates. When admission sees a gap or potentially more space, it can review students who were placed on the waitlist for possible acceptance.

Schools across the board need to make sure they set hard deadlines like Baylor has done to give students a sense of realistic plans for the future. The same traditional trends that help schools like Baylor determine how many people to waitlist and let off the waitlist should be used at other schools to prevent things from happening like they did at a Dartmouth in 2017. Students must be able to consider all of their options rather than holding out for one waitlist school; being prepared to go to that second option is much better than not having an option at all.

Choosing a university from the thousands in this country is one of the biggest decisions someone will ever make. However, how are high school seniors expected to make that decision if they find out what their options are when it’s too late?