Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Getting Off Wait Lists: Will April Showers Bring May Flowers?

Here in the Northeast, it’s supposed to feel like spring, but it doesn’t. We’re still waiting. So are scores of high school seniors. They’d like to know where they’ll be going to college in the fall, but they’re uncertain. They’ve been placed on college wait lists.

Two years ago, my neighbor’s son had the good fortune to gain admission to Georgetown and University of Virginia, and he was torn about where to go. Just when he thought he had made up his mind, he heard from Duke, which had waitlisted him. He’s now a Blue Devil (who actually walked on to the lacrosse team that won a national championship). That same year, one of my students was waitlisted by another highly regarded Southern school. During his April break, the student and his mom flew down Southtoured the campus and stopped in at the admissions office unannounced. They expressed their enthusiasm about the university to an admissions officer. A few weeks later, my student was admitted. (Those who read my February blog on showing love may recognize this syndrome at work!)

So there is proof that students can indeed get off wait lists. Should they count on this? Experts say absolutely not. Should waitlisted students sit back and wait for May flowers? Not a chance! If a student really would like to attend a school at which he or she is waitlisted, that student should take action. Here are some suggestions:

• First of all, a reply card is included when a student is notified of a wait list decision. If he or she is serious about the school, he should return the card as soon as possible.
• However, that’s not enough. The student should compose a letter to the Admissions Director or Regional Rep – by name – that expresses his or her desire to attend. If finances are not an issue and the student really wants that school, he should state, in no uncertain terms, “If accepted, I will attend.” I advise my clients to use real U.S. mail or Federal Express to send this letter rather than having the message lost in a sea of e-mails.
• Students who really want to gain admission to a school at which they have been waitlisted should not stop there. They should meet with their college counselor and enlist that counselor as an advocate. The counselor can call the admissions rep – hopefully they’ve established a dialogue during the school year – and reaffirm the student’s interest.
• Should there be a meaningful development (e.g., being named team captain or winning an award), the student or counselor should inform the target school.
• Some students go as far as asking for an additional letter of recommendation or getting in touch with someone influential, such as a member of the board of trustees. They should do so carefully, making sure not to flood the college with information or harm existing relationships with any contacts.

In the meantime, send in your deposit to be sure your student has somewhere lined up for the fall. And remember: as certain as warm weather will eventually come, good things will happen to those who are waitlisted.