The Waitlist – Mixed Emotions

I think the pros and cons of waitlisting from the applicants’ side are well documented.  Whether you’re pro or anti waitlist, everyone acknowledges the pressures, stress, and false sense of hope the waitlist can cause applicants.  What’s less understood is what those on the other side of the desk go through related to the waitlist.  In many ways it is equally stress-inducing, anxiety-ridden, pressure-filled, and overly hopeful.  I’m not saying that the waitlist process is the same for students as it is for admission professionals, I’m just saying it’s not as different as many might think.

One of the oddest things about our work is that we use two-dimensional communication to evaluate and respond to three-dimensional people.  Applicants communicate with us via a paper application and we communicate with them either though email or snail mail.  Even the delivering of good news is almost always done via mailed information.  We don’t get to have the thrill of seeing or hearing their reaction, of seeing or hearing what it physically looks like to make someone’s dream come true.  The rare exception to this is those students who are admitted off of the waitlist.

We don’t utilize the waitlist every year and thus we oftentimes forget just how joyous and how frustrating using the waitlist can be.  However, after just a few phone calls all of the familiar emotions come rushing back.  There is nothing quite like calling a student who wants to attend W&M more than anything and getting to tell them that they now have that opportunity.  Some scream, some cry, some shout for their parents, and with others you can literally hear the silence as their jaws drop to the floor and they go speechless.  In that moment, there is no better job in the world.  Not only have we been able to impact someone’s life and make a dream come true but we know, at that moment, that we are bringing in a student whose enthusiasm for W&M will have a positive impact on our campus.

Then there are the not so touchy-feely moments.  There are some students we waitlist who will all hope to be able to admit in May or June but those students, being absolutely fantastic applicants, received great offers from other institutions and thus elected not to remain on our waitlist.  That’s a kick-yourself-in-the-butt moment because you know we lost out on a great kid.  Then there are those students who email and call and declare W&M is their absolute first choice and that they will do anything to be admitted the following fall.  When you call those students only to have them inform you that have decided to go elsewhere, frustration and even times exasperation sets in and you find yourself questioning the validity of student communication which is both dangerous and disheartening.  Then there are the calls where it is obvious that the student remained on the waitlist only to see if they could receive another admission offer (similar to those students who apply to schools that they have no intention of going to solely to see whether or not they can be admitted).  Those students have wasted everyone’s time and have done a disservice to the entire process.

And then there’s my overall reaction to the waitlist.  It’s truly an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs and everything in between.  On the one hand, I’m excited to be able to make additional offers of admission.  On the other, I feel that I’m putting the waitlisted students in an awkward situation.  They’ve spent all of April making a difficult decision and just when that stress is lifted and they’ve begun to psych themselves up for their future school, we come in and throw a wrench into the whole process and start the stressful decision-making process all over again.  You cannot fault the students for being wishy-washy or indecisive but at the same time, we are operating under tight time constraints to fill a class and need action more so than contemplation.  Then there’s the added frustration of missed calls, exchanging voicemails, or unreturned phone calls.  We operate between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. when students cannot be reached and they operate in a medium of Facebook and texting which is a forum in which we cannot communicate such critical information as an admission offer.  It’s two ships passing in the night using different sonar systems.  More frustration.

Yet the waitlist is a necessary evil.  Colleges need to fill their classes and students need the ability to hang on to hope.  Necessary evils are by definition understood but not always liked and hence the ups and downs should be expected.  Yet these are not easy waters to navigate for either side.  There are positive and negative outcomes and emotional highs and lows on both sides of the desk.

– Wendy Livingston

Categories: Admission, Faculty & Staff Blogs

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