My colleague Elizabeth wrote a pretty comprehensive post about our waitlist procedures a few years ago, and then Emily shared her personal experience on the waitlist. There isn't a whole lot of new information to share — Elizabeth covered the main points and Emily covered the lived reality — but it feels timely to revisit what the waitlist means.
First off, here's some quick data. For the class of 2019, we anticipate an entering class of about 680 first-years. We received over 7,400 applications and were able to admit 25%. (To compare, over the last five years our average admittance rate has hovered around 33%.)
Until we have all the decisions back from our admitted students, we won't know how big the class is and so we have no idea what our waitlist activity is going to look like. And because we don't know for sure, we really prefer not to make estimations about how many students we might be inviting off the waitlist and into the class. It isn't fair to you, when honestly we don't have a concrete idea right now of what decisions we'll be making starting mid-May.
It sounds vague, but the fact remains that we don't know. Not yet. And until we know, there's little any of us can do except keep on keeping on.
For us, that means waiting to hear back from you. And for you, it means two things: deciding whether or not you want to stay on the waitlist, and making plans for next year.
The first part is self-explanatory: do you want to stay on our waitlist? If yes, let us know — there's an online "card" to fill out that tells us you want to remain on the waitlist and in consideration for the Class of 2019. If you've heard back from your other colleges and you're happy with the options before you, you can use that same online card to let us know that you don't want to remain on our waitlist.
If we do go to the waitlist, there's a finite number of students who will be invited into the class. One of my main concerns for any student on the waitlist is that they will pin their hopes on coming off the waitlist and won't start thinking about the possibility of being somewhere else in the fall.
So here's the biggest piece of advice I can give you about the waitlist:
Make sure you have a home for next year.
Have a plan in place by May 1st, when your decisions and enrollment deposits are due. For most of you, this means college: one of those other fabulous colleges you carefully selected, researched, and possibly visited. For some, it means a gap year, and if that's what you choose, own it.
No waitlist comes with a guarantee. At Oberlin, we don't rank our waitlist and we won't know how deep we will be going into our waitlist until after May 1st. We won't know the shape of the class until that first week of May, and even then the class isn't set in stone. We may lose some of our newly-admitted students if they're invited off the waitlists of other colleges, but we don't know whom or how many. And some students will choose to defer enrolling for a year and take a gap year (again, we won't know how many are applying for a gap year until they actually apply for it).
So, basically, the waitlist is exactly what it sounds like: a wait.
And here's my second piece of advice:
Make that waiting useful.
Part of this relates to that May 1st deadline: spend time imagining yourself at one of the colleges that has accepted you. If we invite you off the waitlist, the fact that you imagined yourself somewhere else is not wasted energy: I'd argue it's a necessity because anywhere you go, you're going to practice that same imaginative exercise. Why not stretch those muscles now? And if you are not invited off of the waitlist, you've mentally placed yourself at your other college, and that is a really important thing.
I submitted my deposit to another school and tried to forget about the waitlist. In my opinion, moving on and focusing on another school is absolutely crucial. That's not to say that a waitlist letter should be treated like a rejection, obviously I ended up getting into Oberlin, all I mean is that hanging all of your hopes on the waitlist is pretty unwise. I started looking at the course catalog, went to an accepted students day and began preparing myself to go to college somewhere other than my dream school (aka Oberlin). I like to think that if I hadn't gotten into Oberlin, I would've been 100% ok with it.
The other part is staying in touch with us. Has anything changed since you submitted your Common App? Have you learned a new dance style? Discovered a new favorite author? Learned a new instrument or fulfilled your lifelong dream of building the Eiffel Towel entirely out of toothpicks? Let us know. Let us know that you've been active since January 15th; let us know that you've continued to ask questions, pushed yourself as a club leader, rallied and demonstrated with fervor — all those things we first liked in your application, show us that they've continued or have grown.
Most of all, enjoy the rest of your senior year.
It's your senior year! Live that up. Close this chapter of your life with verve and joy. College is waiting for you, but right now you're in high school — make it the best, most epic ending to a high school story ever.
And remember that where you go to college does not have to define you — it's what you do with the things you learn in college that will have the greatest impact.