March and April are tough times for seniors — the time when they learn the results of their college applications. What did the colleges decide? Accept, wait or deny? Emotions are high, feelings are on edge – May 1, 2015 means that a decision must be made – a deposit sent in.
“Will I dare go that far away from home? What if I get off a wait list after I deposit? Will I get my money back?” No matter how your college applications turned out, know that your classmates feel the same way. The college selection process involves competitive evaluations. It includes judgments from strangers, an opportunity to learn how to take disappointment, how to make the best of what is. You should know that college applications have never been more competitive than this year. Some competitive colleges are up over 25% — in spite of higher cost of college, colleges received thousands more applications than last year, and yet their freshman class and numbers of beds in the dorms remains the same. Waitlists are getting longer, and more colleges are using them than ever before.
Some colleges use their waitlist to find out if you will accept their offer of admission, others want to see if you can pay for college, and still others balance their class through the waitlist. If they need a few more young men, or if they need more musicians, or leadership in publications, or classics majors, they get them through the waitlist. A waitlist or even a denial doesn’t mean that you can’t do the work at the college.
If you have some idea of what the competition is like, you can’t help but feel better. For example, Duke turns down half of all the valedictorians who apply. Just think of it, top in their class, number one, and that isn’t enough! Northwestern turns down half of those students who apply with College Board scores of 2100 and higher. Columbia accepted less than 6% of their applicants from the class of 2019. But then there’s a brighter way to look at those statistics: Colleges are looking for more than all A’s and top scores. They are looking for students with strong academic records plus an ability to distinguish themselves by their essay, interview and application. Someone unusual. Someone who has a special regional skill or way of life, or a student who has a roof shoveling business, or was the state surfing champion.
Let’s say that you are accepted at two of your colleges, denied at four and waitlisted at Bates and Macalester. Is there anything you can do about it? You bet there is! Along with the card that you return, write a letter (if you’ve already sent the card, send the letter anytime before May 1). In the short letter tell the college that you are disappointed not to have been accepted. Give an academic reason why you are still in interested in Bates and Macalester (something other than you love the location or your best friend goes there). Add something new that the college doesn’t know about you — your latest grades (if they went up), enclose an English paper that was graded, even if not an A, it will show the kind of work you do and the kind of instruction you receive. Enclose a poem or short story or school newspaper article that you wrote. And finally, make a statement that you plan to be there in September. Write your letter assuming you are going to get off the waitlist and on the accept list.
Many of you will decide to accept a college that accepted you, and forget about the waitlist. You have to let some college know by May 1 that you plan to attend, even though you may not know what is going to happen on a waitlist. If you are trying to decide between two colleges, try to go to the accepted students program on campus. Stay overnight, go to classes for a day, and talk to the other students who plan to go there. Don’t hurry to send in the deposit before May 1. Keep learning more about the college by emailing students at the college to ask what the college is like. Talk to as many people that you can and be honest with yourself about what you are looking for. You may have changed since you made out that college list last fall! Don’t be afraid to change your mind… learning new information about yourself or the college deserves a change in your decision.
In recent years, some waitlists were still moving in August. If that’s the college you want most, hang in there, keep sending something new to express your continued interest every 10 days, and keep you energy high when talking to the admissions office. Give every waitlist action your best shot. If you cared enough to apply, don’t let up now and do half a job in putting your best foot forward. Be creative about it. Getting off the waitlist is like stealing home – it’s a challenge and it’s fun!
*Adapted from 8 First Choices: Strategies for Getting Into College, Second Edition. www.JoyceSlaytonMitchell.com