As students sort out their admissions decisions far too many may be wondering “What should I do if I’m waitlisted?” Does a place on the waitlist mean you’re more likely to be admitted to a particular college? Truthfully, the answer is a resounding no. It’s not that students don’t get off waitlists—they do. But there is no guarantee so students need to hedge their bets.
Here’s a case in point. A friend’s daughter recently found out she was waitlisted at Harvey Mudd—a small liberal arts school with top programs in engineering and science (part of the Claremont College Consortium) and an undergraduate enrollment of nearly 900 students. According to the college’s most recent admissions statistics (for students entering in the fall of 2016), Harvey Mudd offered 528 students a place on its waitlist, 342 accepted, and only 12 eventually were offered a place in the incoming freshman class. While this number varies from year to year, it underscores why relying on the waitlist to get into your dream school is a gamble.
So what should you do if you find yourself on a college’s waitlist? My advice, if it’s a school that remains your first choice or the next most desirable college where you applied, take these steps:
- Contact your regional admissions representative and ask where you are on its waitlist—at the very top, in the middle, or the bottom third, for example. A college may not provide this information to you, but ask anyway. If you learn your name is high on the wait list, then go ahead and make your strongest case for why the college remains your first choice and what you can contribute to its community.
- Let your regional admissions representative know that if the college takes you’off its waitlist you’ll enroll and again communicate why the school remains your first choice. The key: make the commitment to enroll there.
- If you’ve communicated with schools where you’re waitlisted and haven’t heard by May 1 (the candidates reply date), send in your deposit to the school you’ve selected among those where you were admitted. A domino effect tends to occur as institutions hear from students who plan to enroll and those who plan to enroll elsewhere. Ultimately, this may result in institutions having additional space for students and going to the waitlist in late spring or summer. In enrollment circles this is known as the summer melt. For example, a student I knew sent her deposit to one institution on May 1 and received an email from Wake Forest in late June asking if she was still interested in attending Wake. She made the commitment to enroll at Wake Forest and got off its waitlist.
What’s the best waitlist strategy? Hedge your bets, make your best case for admission to the institution where you’re waitlisted, and then see what happens over time.
Most juniors and seniors have heard the warnings from high school college guidance counselors, parents, and other adults about the importance of scrubbing social media pages of questionable photos and language — no red solo cups, obviously, no wild party photos or other questionable comments that could get into the hands of admissions officers and negatively impact an admission decision at a particular college. Almost half of admissions officers do pay attention to social media sites so heeding this advice is a no-brainer.
On the flip side, maybe it’s time for students to be more proactive and creative about using social media as a tool to market themselves to colleges. A news segment on NPR’s Here and Now, Does Social Media Help Students Stand Out To Schools?, made what I think is a compelling case about students using social media to shed a brighter light on their specific talents, interests, background, and personal experiences than what is possible through a college application or essay. For example, if you’re doing summer research, why not talk about the experience, what you’ve learned, or the paper or abstract you wrote via a post on Facebook. The bottom line: use social media as a tool to positively market yourself to college admissions staff.
Recently I worked with a student who wanted to transfer after her first semester at a large public university to a smaller college in Texas. If you plan to transfer to another college, here are some important considerations to keep in mind:
- Your high school grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities will factor more heavily in the admissions decision if you plan to transfer after only your first or second semester in college. While your college grades will be taken into account, your high school record will matter equally if not more.
- You can and should retake the ACT or SAT if the score you submitted as a first-year student was lower than you anticipated and you are applying after one or two semesters of college. At many competitive colleges transfer applications are due in March or April. Plan to take the ACT or SAT test in early winter or spring to ensure your scores reach colleges by the transfer application deadline.
- Your college grades and activities will be the most important factors in the admissions decision if you attended the institution for two years or more.
- Take time to visit campuses, search college web sites, and talk to admissions officers and other college faculty and staff. Make sure you have done due diligence in finding the right college that is best for you in terms of the size, culture, academic offerings, and so forth.
- Make sure you find out the extent to which your academic credits will be accepted at transfer schools and what that means in terms of tuition costs and degree completion time.
For juniors who want to put in the good thinking and reflection it takes to write an effective Common Application essay, here’s your chance. In February, the Common Application announced the essay prompts for students applying to college during the 2017-2018 admissions year.
While you’re probably not ready to start writing, this gives you plenty of time to think deeply about the experiences, challenges, events, and other aspects of your life that best reveal something meaningful about you to college admissions officers. If you do the good thinking now, chances are you’ll have a solid draft of your Common App personal essay completed by mid summer with time to begin focusing on supplemental essays required by many colleges.
An article in the Huffington Post provides some good information about these changes and practical advice for students as they consider what to write about.
A recent New York Times article, 5 Ways to Make College Tours Fun Instead of Grueling, offers some great advice about planning and actually visiting college campuses. For families with sophomores and juniors this is advice to take to heart.
While many students are not really dialed into the college search process until spring of their junior year, it does make sense to take students to campuses that are near places where your family will be visiting or are an easy drive from home and offer other attractions students (and other members of the family) will enjoy.
Another good tip is not to cram too many college visits into any one trip. For example, a relative scheduled and hauled his two twin sons to 16 colleges and universities over their junior spring break leaving them exhausted (with heads spinning) by the end of the break. Make it fun, always!
Beginning October 1, 2016, a much praised change in the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) goes into effect. Referred to as prior-prior year (PPY), the change allows families to use tax returns completed two years before (prior-prior year) rather than 2016 tax returns to fill out the FAFSA. Among PPY’s major benefits:
- Students can file their FAFSA much earlier—as early as October 1, 2016. This will allow them to find out sooner about their eligibility for federal financial aid to pay for college rather than having to wait weeks or even months later.
- PPY allows most students to use the IRS’s Data Retrieval Tool. The data retrieval tool links up with tax data and this data is pre-filled in the FAFSA form. This makes completing the FAFSA easier and more accurate for families and students.
Two articles worth reading about PPY and how it benefits students and families:
It’s that time of year. Time to put down the video game controller or whatever your summer guilty pleasure and get to work—the Common Application is up and running as of August 1. Now it’s time to work on your personal statement.
This year the essay prompts are the same (which has been public knowledge for a few months). The “topic of your choice” was removed from the 2015-2016 CA so that remains the same. Here are the 2016-2017 CA essay prompts:
- Option 1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- Option 2: The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Option 3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
- Option 4: Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
- Option 5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Consider these essays a launching pad to write about something that shows your growth and development, values, reflective nature, the things that are important to you. These essay options give you the latitude to write about something that is interesting, powerful, and meaningful to you.
On August 1, the University of California rolled out its new application for the 2017 entering class. The application required by all the UC system campuses (e.g., UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara and so forth) replaces the personal statement with new Personal Insight Questions. Students applying for fall 2017 will be required to choose three questions (out of a list of eight) and write an essay of no more than 350 words for each.
This means that UC admissions officers want to get to know you better — “your interests, ambitions, and inspirations.” If you plan to apply or are seriously considering an application to a UC campus, take time now to review and think about these questions. It’s not too early.
On the web, you’ll find lots of helpful tips about how to write a good college admission essay-one that lets the admissions committee at a particular college learn something personal about you that may not be reflected in your academic record or extracurricular activities. One of the best is found on the College Board’s site, BigFuture that provides 8 valuable tips for crafting your best college essay.
Also remember that good writing is a result of good thinking and that requires time. A few years ago, a student asked me to review her Early Action essay to an Ivy League university a few days before the deadline. In this student’s case, the essay wasn’t her best effort. In fact, I knew if the student submitted this essay, it might actually hurt her admissions chances. While most college essays will not dramatically change your admissions fortunes, a poorly organized and written essay could impact your admission decision. Keep in mind the cardinal rule of writing college admissions essays: Do No Harm.
Give yourself plenty of time to determine what essays you need to write, brainstorm ideas, develop a draft, refine the essays, and let parents, your guidance counselor and others review them. Since you will likely be applying to six to eight schools or more, you’ll need to determine which schools have supplemental essays or their own homegrown applications (the latter is true of many public institutions). The summer before your senior year is the best time to draft essays with the goal of making sure admissions officers gain insight into your special qualities or strengths.
Above all, make sure your essays are authentic, reflect the real you and are free from grammatical and spelling mistakes.
With good organization, planning, and hard work over the summer, you should be in good shape for the fall application season. Here’s my top 10 checklist for high school seniors:
- If you plan to take the SAT or ACT another time to improve your scores, take the early fall test administration of either. This gives you time to send scores to colleges for early decision deadlines or take the test one more time before the January regular application deadlines.
- For colleges of serious interest to you, plan to take a second visit to the campus if you can (particularly if you visited the campus over the summer when few students were around). Complete campus visits by early October if you’re applying early and early November if you’re applying regular decision. Remember, at many selective schools demonstrated interest matters.
- Keep a master table or spreadsheet that lists all the schools you plan to apply to and each school’s specific priority, early or regular decision deadlines depending on which one you plan to use. At some institutions, priority deadlines must be met for students to be considered for scholarships or honors program eligibility and can be as early as October 1.
- Make sure you have completed all application essays (Common Application, supplemental essays or essays required by public institutions that often have homegrown applications). If you’re applying early, make sure your application and essays are completed by late September. Give yourself time to put aside the essay, review it, and make final revisions.
- By now you should have asked for or received written college recommendations from your teachers in core subjects. If you forgot to approach teachers before the summer break, ask them if they are willing to write you a personal recommendation as soon as school begins. Teachers have many recommendations to write and deserve the courtesy of you giving them adequate time to do so.
- If you plan to be considered for a scholarship, check to see what requirements each institution has. For example, do you need to fill out a separate form, write an additional essay, participate in a scholarship competition, and so forth to be considered for a scholarship? By late summer or early fall you should have all this information in hand.
- For those students applying for financial aid, make sure you and your parents have registered for an account on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and the College Board’s CSS Profile (College Scholarship Profile—Profile)—required by many private institutions. This year both can be filed as soon as October 1 since accept “prior year” tax returns.
- Remain engaged in activities within and outside school that are intellectually and personally interesting to you. If you have the minimum hours of community service, consider volunteering for an organization with a cause or mission you strongly support. Commit to volunteering on a regular basis (weekly). The activity will be fulfilling to you and will strengthen your college resume.
- Keep up the hard work in your classes to ensure your grades don’t take a dip. Colleges are wary of students whose grades decline in the senior year. Don’t let up.
- Finally, remember colleges like to admit good citizens—students who will be engaged in positive ways on their campuses. Avoid risky behavior or decisions (altercations, drinking incidents, etc.) that can result in a college rescinding its offer of admissions.