It’s mid-April, so students have heard from the colleges where they applied. They know whether they were offered admission or not. But sometimes, colleges delay the final decision by putting students on a waitlist. And since 2020, colleges seem to be relying more and more on their waitlists to manage their enrollments.
Here’s the deal: students who have multiple offers of admission can only enroll in one college or university. Colleges are eager to make sure they don’t over-enroll (which is a nightmare for housing, class sizes, etc.), so they offer admission to enough students to get them close to, but not over, their final enrollment numbers.
That means waitlists usually don’t move until after May 1, when the first round of students who were offered admission either accept or decline the school’s offer. Now that each college knows exactly how many students have accepted their offer, they cherry-pick the waitlist students to get to the precise number and characteristics of students they want for the coming year. That cherry-picking will depend on who enrolls from the first round. Not enough men? Not enough geographic diversity? Then that guy from Arkansas may get plucked off the list. In other words, the waitlist is not numbered 1, 2, 3 like a line at the grocery store.
Students can decline an offer to be on a waitlist if they’ve been admitted to another school where they’d rather go.
Students who are waitlisted at a school where they’d love to go can opt to stay on the waitlist, but they should plan to enroll at another school where they were actually offered a spot and make peace with the idea that this school will be where they’ll start in the fall. If they come off the other college’s waitlist in the summer, they can commit to that school but lose their enrollment deposit at the first school.
How likely is it to come off a waitlist?
It completely depends on the school, but families can look up each school’s waitlist statistics by searching the school name and “Common Data Set” online. For example, Google “UC Davis Common Data Set.” Then click on the document PDF. Once the document opens, scroll down to section C2. It will tell you, for the last year or so:
- how many students were offered a spot on the waitlist
- how many students accepted a spot on the waitlist
- how many students were offered admission off the waitlist
For UC Davis, 3,919 students were admitted off the waitlist out of 4,960 who had accepted a spot on the waitlist. That’s 79%, which means there’s a good chance that a student might still be admitted off the waitlist.
But at UCLA, only 214 students were admitted off the waitlist out of 9,897 who had accepted a spot on the waitlist. That’s about 2% of students getting off the waitlist. Ouch.
The exact percentage for any one school will vary from year to year, but at least it gives you a ballpark number to help manage expectations.
Beth Pickett, a graduate of Stanford University, earned her Certificate in College Counseling from UCLA in 2007. From 2008 to 2010, Beth created, produced, and hosted the Countdown to College Radio Show, a live interview-based program that aired on station WNSH in the Boston area.
She is a member of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) and the Western Association for College Admissions Counseling. She resides in the seaside town of Ventura, California.
For more great information on getting into the college you want, visit College Prep Counseling. There’s a slew of great advice and informational blog posts!