Preparing for College

16 Ways to Work A Waitlist

Waitlists are the purgatory of college admissions and this year, due to the recession, colleges are hedging their bets on enrollment even more carefully than hedge funds are angling for bailouts. What's a waitlisted applicant to do?

Well, thanks to Kathleen Kingsbury of The Daily Beast's college blog, you can get 1.25 dozen of great advice. Here's a sampling:

Be persistent

“Write the school, call, follow up, update your grades and send an extra teacher recommendation letter. Let them know it's your first choice and where else you got in. You can't just sit around and wait for a miracle." — Michele Hernandez, former admissions officer at Dartmouth College and author of A is Admissions: The Insider's Guide to Getting into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges

But don't pester

“I had one mother last year who called me every single day for two months, sometimes multiple times a day. She couldn't help herself. I finally had to say, 'Your son is not getting in and you may wish to seek psychiatric help for yourself.'" — Ivy League admissions officer

Follow the rules

“We tell students: send additional academic information only. Still, students will send us seven additional recommendations, email us endlessly or have everyone they know call us. It doesn't help. We know the affluent students from Long Island and California will fly here to tell how much they want to come, but we want a level playing field for the northwestern Indiana students who don't have the gas money in their pocket to visit." — Terry Knaus, senior associate director of admissions at Indiana University at Bloomington

Work the system

“Washington University in St. Louis has notoriously huge waitlists— they won't even tell you how long. My bet is they put over 10,000 kids on the waitlist every year for a class of 1,350. The thing is, though, is they don't count you on the waitlist until you tell them it's your first choice. It's a despicable practice, but it's a popular place and they can get away with it." — Jon Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School

Let schools know you can pay

“It never hurts to remind schools know you will be a full-paying student, especially this year. The rules even change at need-blind schools when it comes to the waitlist. It's not an official practice, but admissions officers are human. They know endowments are down and cost-cutting is essential. If a full-paying student says he'll definitely come, letting him in can be a relief." — Karen Crowley, consultant for College Coach, a national education-consulting firm, and former admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania

Sweets don't work

“We always have people bringing us cookies and cakes. It's terrible for my waistline and it doesn't work. One young woman sent a box of red and gray M&M's, some stamped with her name, some with 'Wants UGA.' They're still on my desk, but I don't even remember her name…We did let her into our January class, but she was not too pleased about that. Her mother called to complain." — Nancy McDuff, director of admissions at the University of Georgia

Neither do pineapples

"We get the pineapples from Hawaii and the cookies and candy. One girl had a petition signed by the mayor and everyone in her town. She even had the dean of Swarthmore sign it when she came on a campus tour. It was clever. Those things don't get you in, but they put you on our radar.

“But they can backfire. We heard about one guy who was writing [online] about how badly he wanted to go to Swarthmore, but he was waitlisted. He was saying some pretty nasty things about us. He also said we shouldn't have listened to his teachers' recommendations, which were, in fact, glowing. It was anonymous, but he said where he lived and we'd only put one boy on the waitlist from that state, so we knew who it was. So we just didn't want to go there. You have to be careful what you put on the Internet. We don't go looking, but we can't ignore it when we hear about it." – Jim Bock, Swarthmore College

Pen a tune

“I always tell students that, at this stage of the game, a gimmick won't hurt. It's go-for-broke time. I know one student who sent admission folks a photo of himself in front of the gates of a rival college, adding a clever caption about what his fate would be if he moldered on the waitlist. An aspiring composer [could] write an 'Ode to Oberlin' or a budding poet pen 'The Ballad of Barnard.' Yet you have to be aware that what tickles the fancy of one admission officer may make a colleague barf." — College Confidential counselor Sally Rubenstone, a former admissions officer at Smith College

No, really, pen a tune

“We had a student years ago who used the music of our alma mater and wrote new words telling us why we should admit them. Creative and cute, but not over the top." — Jean Jordan, director of admissions at Emory University

Don't repeat yourself

“One of our applicants when I was at Penn wrote his essay on baking popovers, and one day he showed up at the office with a batch of freshly baked popovers. We all thought it was fairly ingenious— until we heard through the grapevine he did the same thing at Princeton." — Karen Crowley, consultant for College Coach, a national education-consulting firm, and former admissions officer at the University of Pennsylvania

Get psyched about where you did get in

“For day one, I tell kids to be excited about the schools they did get into. They applied to those schools for some reason in the first place, and that school thought they'd be a good fit. It also puts you in a better bargaining position if another offer does come around." — Brad MacGowan, college counselor at Massachusetts' Newton North High School

And don't count on the waitlist

“I can't stress this enough to families: put a deposit in at some school before May 1. Yes, more and more are willing to walk away from that money if a better offer comes in, but we hear terrible stories all the time about kids who ended up with nowhere to go in the fall." — Brian Hazlett, director of recruitment at Binghamton University

So, if you've been waitlisted, what are you waiting for?

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.