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Ivy League Waitlists - What you Need to Know – Part 1

Elizabeth Heaton

Written by Elizabeth Heatonon April 3rd, 2014

I began my admissions career at the University of Pennsylvania, where I chaired university selection committees, evaluated potential athletic recruits as one of the school's athletics liaisons, and oversaw the university's portfolio of admissions publications. I also served as second chair in the selection committee for the school's flagship interdisciplinary Jerome Fisher Program in Management & Technology. A frequent contributor to USA TODAY and The Huffington Post and a graduate of Cornell University, I bring exceptional skills to the craft of essay writing paired with experience reading and evaluating thousands of admissions essays. I can offer expert advice on a wide range of college admissions topics, from colleges' expectations for high school curriculum choices and standardized test scores to choosing the right extracurricular activities and essay topics. Prior to joining the University of Pennsylvania, I worked as a public relations professional and served for a decade as a member of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network.
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It’s that time of year again: waitlist season. If you’re currently waitlisted by an Ivy League school (i.e., a member of the most famous sports conference in the world), here are a few things to keep in mind:
  1. You have a lot of company. With huge applicant pools filled with many qualified students, one of the toughest parts of the process is saying no. Statistics gathered in 2012 by The New York Times’ “The Choice” blog show that two years ago, Dartmouth admitted 2,180 students and put 1,726 on the waitlist. The numbers were similar at other schools: 2,095 admits and 1,472 waitlists at Princeton and 1,975 admits and 1,001 waitlists at Yale. Do the math: at each of these institutions, the number of students on the waitlist was more than half the number admitted.
  2. The odds are not in your favor. One of the reasons the Ivies are so selective is the number of students who want to attend. According to the Business Insider, 43,041 students applied to Cornell this year, while 35,788 and 34,295 submitted applications to the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard respectively. When admission is heavily contested, acceptance offers are coveted. Though the process has gotten crazier over the years (see this kid, who applied to all the Ivies and actually got in), these institutions are still pretty good at predicting yield. That means that they send out enough offers to account for students who choose other schools, and they rarely under or over-enroll the incoming class. That means fewer holes to fill once the May 1 deposits are in.
  3. You may have even less of a shot than you realize. In this article, I outlined the ways in which waitlists have grown over the years to include a large number of applicants for whom the offer is simply a nicer way of saying no. How to tell if that is the case with you? It’s a little tricky, but one sign would be your other acceptances. If you weren’t admitted to any similarly selective schools, the waitlist may be a courtesy.
  4. There is no rhyme or reason to the waitlist. Sort of. By that I mean that the waitlists at these institutions aren’t ranked numerically, so there’s no way to know if you are at the top or bottom of the list (see courtesy waitlist above). How likely—or not—you are to make the cut will depend, ironically, on the students who were admitted and decide to attend. As those deposits come in, any holes in the class will begin to emerge. Those holes will decide your fate. Low on female engineers? If that’s you, welcome to the top of the list. But if they need more female engineers from Oregon and you’re from Connecticut? Not happening.
  5. Sometimes no one goes from waitlist to admit. You know what happens when no holes emerge in the class? No one gets off the waitlist.
Still have some hope? Come back tomorrow and read part two of the blog, where I share some thoughts about steps to take—and actions to avoid—to increase your odds of going from a WL to an A. New Call-to-Action


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