I really wish our blog had a comments feature for this blog because I’d be interested in hearing from prospective students and parents on this particular issue. I just returned from a regional conference of college admission and secondary school counselors and one of the topics of discussion was waitlists. Many secondary school counselors feel waitlisting students is passive-aggressive and would prefer that colleges simply make tough decisions one way or the other. They oftentimes bemoan giving students who are unlikely to come off the waitlist false hope. All concerns which we on the other side of the desk understand completely.
The issue is that there are tons of reasons to waitlist a student not the least of which is that the institution needs the flexibility to admit more students later on should the original offers of admission not be accepted at the rates predicted. In the worst cases, schools have actually under-enrolled their freshmen classes which has serious financial circumstances for the college itself. Another is that for both the college and the prospective student, a waitlist provides a soft landing. The truth is there are simply applicants who have earned neither a deny letter nor an admit letter. To make admission officers make a final decision on these students would be unfair to all parties since neither deny nor admit is overly appropriate.
A question we always struggle with is would the student rather know the final answer (which in the absence of waitlist would likely be a deny) or would the student prefer to receive an envelope with slightly better and more complimentary news (a waitlist letter). Neither option is without its down side, that’s for sure and both have lingering consequences for the institution, the prospective students and his/her family, and the counselors working with those students. This is an imperfect system and the waitlist debate certainly points that out. Both sides of the debate have merit and your particular role (student/parent, guidance counselor, or admission officer) likely colors your opinion of the practice. Maybe the soft landing is viewed by some as no landing at all but merely another stressor in the stress-filled process that is applying to college. As this debate continues at regional and national admission conferences it will be interesting to see what compromises, if any, are reached.
– Wendy Livingston