Strong Student is on Wait lists at "Safeties."

Question: My son has a 33 ACT, a 4.19 weighted GPA in mostly honors and AP classes, and has taken part in sports and many extracurricular activities with leadership roles as well as in selective academic-enrichment opportunities. He also started a community service program and has donated more than 300 hours to it. So we are surprised and confused that he was put on waitlists at his Safety schools. Is it because he wants engineering and priority is going to girls in that field, even if they are not as strong as he is?

It would be irresponsible of me to speculate about why your son has been waitlisted so widely without access to all of the information that admission offices have seen (transcript, essays, recommendations, etc.) and without knowing how you define “Safety.” But nonetheless I’ll hazard a guess:

While engineering programs are often eager to enroll more females and underrepresented minority students, that still wouldn't explain why your son hasn't been scooped up by schools he's viewed as "Safe" (assuming that he made those assessments wisely, which isn't always the case). But each year I see a growing number of colleges using “demonstrated interest” as an admission-decision criterion. While some schools will readily concede that this is true and others won’t, my colleagues and I are accustomed to watching strong students waitlisted or even denied at schools where seemingly less able applicants get good news.

The college folks appear to be increasingly conscious of “yield” (the percentage of admitted students who enroll) and are thus often more willing to take a candidate who seems to be committed (whether this is true or just an Academy Award-winning performance) over one who hasn’t visited campus, had an interview, corresponded with a regional rep. attended local programming, etc.  With so many seniors now applying to 20 colleges or more, the admission folks are trying to read the tea leaves that will help them separate the eager beavers from the students unlikely to attend.

I always encourage students to apply to a short list of colleges and to make sure that they would be happy to land at any of the places on that list ... including the one or ones where their grades and test scores should make them superstars. Then I urge the students to stay in contact with each college (without overdoing it and becoming a pest) in order to “demonstrate interest.”

Granted, I have also heard of students who apparently did demonstrate such interest and were still turned away from putatively Safe places. In these situations (barring extenuating circumstances like lukewarm references), I imagine that the admission committees just don’t think the student will ever show up. So perhaps your son is a victim of his own success, and the moderately or less selective colleges on his list simply assumed he’d be heading elsewhere.

If your son doesn’t get accepted anywhere and wants to put on a full-court press to grab a spot at one of those Safe schools that waitlisted him, please write back to "The Dean" and I’ll offer some suggestions.

Good luck to all of you at this frustrating time.