When my oldest daughter decided to apply to the undergraduate program for fall of 2013 at the University of Chicago, she was realistic enough to know it was a long shot. It was definitely her reach school. For fall of 2012, UChicago had accepted only 13.2% of applicants. We talked about not being disappointed if she didn’t get accepted and being ecstatic if she got in, whether or not she ultimately decided to go there. We never talked about how to feel if she was waitlisted.
For great students applying to top-tier schools in the last few years, being waitlisted has become a reality. Many acceptance rates were at an all-time low for fall of 2013 including Stanford at 5.7%, Columbia at 6.9% and UChicago at 8.8%. UChicago had over 30,300 applications to review, including my daughter’s, for around 1,400 spots. That’s crazy! In 2012, UChicago reported that they waitlisted 3,000 applicants. The school did not disclose how many of those students elected to remain on the waitlist or how many, if any, were admitted from the waitlist. It does not appear that the school has released any statistics yet on how many applicants were waitlisted for fall of 2013. The only statistic they have released is that the yield rate (number of accepted students electing to attend) was 55% compared to 47% the prior year. I would guess UChicago waitlisted somewhere around 3,000 students again for 2013. What this means for a waitlisted student is that he or she was still in the top 15% of UChicago applicants. That is definitely an accomplishment to be proud of!
When my daughter got her “waitlisted” decision from UChicago, it explained that she needed to accept or decline her spot on the waitlist. If she accepted the waitlist spot, she was told to go ahead and accept an offer of admission from another school and pay the deposit for that school. UChicago also encourages students who are sure UChicago is their top choice to email their Regional Admissions Counselor to let him/her know that.
Our discussion regarding my daughter’s waitlist status was pretty simple. I can’t imagine what it is like with a student who has his/her heart set on attending the school where he/she has been waitlisted. We talked it through and she decided to move on and decline her waitlist spot for three reasons:
1. The low probability of being accepted off the waitlist. I knew that UChicago did not disclose any averages on the number of students they typically accept off the waitlist, but national averages were 100 students or less. I also felt that since the number of applicants and the yield had been on an upward trend, it was very possible that no students would be accepted off the waitlist. Additionally, there is a growing trend of accepting students for the following year’s class. The schools basically says, we will accept you if you take a mandatory gap year first. This wasn’t something that interested my daughter.
2. Low probability of merit or need-based aid. By the time the school gets to admitting waitlisted students, there is typically little or no merit money or financial aid money left to give. If a student is accepted off the waitlist, he or she usually has to send in a deposit before receiving a financial package. I had also heard from a parent of another waitlisted student that the schools tend to look for “full pay” students they can accept off the waiting list. This isn’t something easily confirmed or disproved since that would not be looked upon favorably, but it makes sense to me
3. She had other good options. There were two schools at the top of my daughter’s list that were less expensive and met most of what she wanted in a college. Were they in the same league as UChicago? No, but one offered a great honors college. She was OK with the idea of being a “big fish in a small pond” instead of the “small fish in a big pond” that she would have been at UChicago.
Once my daughter made the decision to decline the waiting list at UChicago and made a choice between her top two schools, she never looked back. After talking to her during her first month of college, it has become clear that she could have survived just fine in the rigorous UChicago academic environment, but that’s OK. So far, there are positives and negatives at the school she selected, just like there would be with any college. Overall, she is happy where she is, and that is what is most important.