March 2, 2018

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Over the next 30 days, hundreds of thousands of eager to-be college students will get that dreaded email notification:

“Thank you for applying to our _________ University.  While your credentials are truly outstanding, at this point, we are not able to grant you admission.  We do, however, recognize your achievements and think you could be a valuable addition to our community.  Therefore we have chosen to place you on the waitlist for the time being until we receive a more accurate assessment of our admissions numbers.

Please confirm or reject your waitlist status by checking the corresponding box below and submitting the form.

Thank you…”

“Jack was an excellent and enthusiastic waitlist resource. And he delivered!” -Doug Traynor, Parent: Fairfield, CT
-Sarah Traynor, Waitlist Student Vanderbilt University Class of 2021

Maybe I should be a professional waitlist letter writer?  Every University could just borrow my beautifully-crafted, perfectly ambiguous letter that provides no college admission clarity but brings with it just enough hope to keep high school seniors quoting Dumb & Dumber: “So you’re saying there’s a chance?”

I have been helping students navigate the ever-confusing waitlist process since 2011.

I’ll stop right there–I know several of you reading this are saying.  “What?  How do you help students navigate the process?  All you do is check a box and wait!”

Ahhhhh and that is where you’d be mistaken.

I hope one day the “Waitlist Fallacy” will be accepted on this list right next to the “Red Herring” fallacy and “Cherry Picking Fallacy.”  The waitlist has a horrendous name, plain and simple.  With my students I refer to it by one name and one name only: the proactive list.

The waitlist isn’t rocket science, but requires a thoughtful and well-executed plan.  Over the last seven years, I have honed the specifics of this plan and work one-on-one with my students to implement this plan over the month of April.  The results speak for themselves: The national average for waitlist acceptance rates is ~6% (depending on the year).  Since 2011, my students’ acceptance rates are over 10x the national average (63%).

But to really understand these numbers, a brief description of the wailtist, from the school’s perspective, will be valuable:

  • Why do schools waitlist students?  Short answer: schools do not know their yield until May 1, when deposits are typically due.  They need to have a “buffer” of students who are academically-qualified to attend the university in case yield is lower than expected.

    “After two weeks of hard but calculated work, I was accepted to Wesleyan off the wait list.” — Matt Japko, Wesleyan University ’17
  • Which schools have the largest # of waitlist students?  The schools that are “on the edge” in terms of academic prestige tiers.  My alma-mater, Vanderbilt, is a perfect example.  These days, many students who apply to Vanderbilt also apply to the Harvards, Yales, and Princetons of the world.  For the most elite students in the country, Vanderbilt is their “safety” school (believe me, I was NOT one of these students).  Therefore, when they get into both Harvard and Vanderbilt, nine times out of ten they choose Harvard. This leaves an open spot at Vanderbilt.
  • What is the one thing schools really, really don’t like?  Accepting someone off the waitlist, only to have them say “no.”  Not only does this lower their yield rate (a statistic that every university highly values), but it also means they have spent time, money, and energy recruiting someone who will not attend their school.
  • So what should you do if you are waitlisted?  If you are waitlisted at your top-choice school, reach out!  Doing so could be the difference between attending the school of your dreams for 4 years or having to settle for your backup.  Delehey College Consulting only charges for services if we successfully get you off the waitlist.  If we (sadly) can’t get you off the waitlist (37% of my students over the years), you pay $0.  And if you don’t enroll in my waitlist class and decide to tackle it on your own, I have one piece of advice for you: show the school you want to attend.  If you do this one step, you’ll already be ahead of 90% of waitlist students that check the box and…just…wait.  Not you–you’re better than that.
  • So what should you do if you know someone who is waitlisted (or has a child who is waitlisted)?  Forward this post to them!

Cheers to a proactive waitlist season to all.


P.S. – I was waitlisted at Vanderbilt in 2010 and personally used many of the tactics I preach today: I was called off the waitlist the very first day it opened.

“Jack knows what it takes to help you stand out from the crowd of hundreds of other students on the waitlist.” -Chris Sykes, Boston College Class of 2020