Sunday, April 19, 2009

College admissions waiting lists: advice on signaling

I last wrote about College admissions waiting lists on March 31, when the most selective colleges were just sending out their acceptances, rejections, and waitlist decisions. Now there is an interregnum, until the May 1 deadline for students to decide which college acceptances to accept. Only after that will colleges know how many students have accepted and rejected them, and hence how many empty places they still have, and how many admits they can make from their waitlist.

Most colleges don't want the waitlist process to drag on too long. But the waitlist process is potentially lengthy, since students admitted from the waitlist need some time to decide, and if some of these ultimately decline, then new students must be admitted from the waitlist later, and so on. So what colleges can do is give some preference to students on the waitlist who they think are more likely to accept an offer. For this reason colleges ask students who are offered a position on the waiting list to actively indicate that they wish to remain on it (this removes from consideration those who have already been accepted to a college they know they prefer). But it also leaves some scope for students to give further indications of their interest, and many colleges explicitly encourage this.

For example, the MIT Admissions Office blog on waitlists says
"If you are still interested in MIT, you should stay in contact with us. A letter, a phone call, notes from people who know you well... these are good things to provide. Please always be very nice in all of your interactions with us! Keep us up to date all the way through May 1 and beyond if you remain interested."

That is, just as in the initial admissions process, there is room for signaling.
The Boston Globe reports how signals of interest to colleges at this stage occupies the attention of some students and admissions offices: Students hope to beat college waiting list.
"... in the elbows-out world of college admissions, savvy hopefuls, often with the help of private advisors and aggressive high school counselors, are launching full-scale campaigns to spring themselves from the list.
In-the-know seniors are writing letters assuring admission deans that if admitted, they will go. They're e-mailing updates on their second-semester senior grades, spring awards, and other academic breakthroughs. (There's no room for senioritis if you're on a waiting list.)
And they are placing one, just one, well-timed phone call, a step that can spur an admission officer to pull the student's file and disclose whether there is something else he or she can do to boost the chance of admission.
"It's too bad if students don't know to follow up," said Tom Parker, dean of admission and financial aid at Amherst College, which expects to take about 35 students from its list of 1,000. "If you're going to get off the wait list, you're really going to have to demonstrate a significant interest."
Not that this is something many colleges publicize when they inform applicants that they have landed in admissions limbo. While admission deans admit they can be lobbied, they insist that, technically, they do not require any additional information. And schools are quick to say that they do not penalize students who fail to follow up, especially if they come from low-income communities where high school counselors are often overwhelmed.
"We wouldn't want to overlook a student who doesn't know she can even do that," said Jennifer Desjarlais, dean of admission at Wellesley College.
But all things being equal, especially as the swooning economy has added a new volatility to the admissions process, students can vault to the top of the pack by writing a letter about why a college is their number one choice and promising to attend if accepted, said deans at numerous colleges."

Of course, some signaling strategies convey negative information:
"While demonstrating interest and presenting updates often helps in the final rounds of evaluations, tread carefully. Go too far, admission deans warn, and you will snuff out your chances.
Do not stalk admission officers, camp out in front of their office, or flood their inboxes with daily e-mails. ("That's like the kiss of death," said Richard Nesbitt, director of admission at Williams College.)"

The NY Times blog on college admissions advises one parent of a waitlisted daughter:
"In terms of pursuing her wait-list offer, she should send an e-mail to the regional admissions officer stating her strong and unqualified interest (being straightforward and unequivocal: if admitted I will enroll, etc). We also think it is important to send a letter to the admissions office with any recent accomplishments. In the letter it is helpful for the admissions committee to be able to discern genuine interest by reiterating why you think the school would be such a good match.

So...if there's a waiting list you are waiting for, and you haven't done so already, send an email to the admissions office. And then, to quote the final line from the MIT admissions blog
"... be patient. There won't be any waitlist news until after May 1."


John said...

Wating is the hardest part.. Doesn't This looks like an awesome place to begin your academic program! The True Blue Campus at St. Georges University.

Ballas said...

On a related note, consider the following question:

Suppose a student is considering whether or not to join a college, and they see the waiting list is long. They infer from this that the college must be good. But then that means fewer of the currently enrolled students will be likely to drop their enrollment. If there is any sort of a cost to remain on a waiting list, the student may be compelled to drop from the waiting list because they feel it isn't worth the cost since their chances are so low. Similarly, if there is a short waiting list, students will infer the quality of the college is low, so joining the waiting list is not worth the effort. Can any sort of inference be made based on waiting list length?

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