I didn't know there was a wait list strategy. The heart of the strategy is simple. As in so many things in life, sometimes you just have to show you care.
So how do students go from the list to acceptance? We have more insights from our guest expert who has been a high school counselor and in college admissions. As he points out, the quality of the candidate isn’t the primary driver — the college has already made that judgment. The level of desire to attend is the vital information that needs to shared with the college.
He suggests that if the wait listee would definitely go if accepted, the student should tell the college that in writing AND should get the high school counselor to back that up with a phone call. This is a serious business — and, of course, can only be done with one college. (He notes that it's fine to express serious interest in more than one wait list — but that is not the same as saying “I will definitely come if you accept me.”)
The high school’s reputation for honesty is also riding on this — if a student says she’ll go and then decides not to, it can do long-term damage to the school’s relationship with the college. If, however, the wait-listing school is the real first choice, this information can make the difference.
There's also the conditional acceptance. An admissions person calls the student and says, “We will take you if you accept, and you have to let us know by tomorrow.”
As for timing... The Universal Reply date is May 1 — so technically, colleges don’t know if they’ve “made the class” until after that date. But if they find that early returns are lagging behind the previous year, they may go to the wait list in April. Ideally, every college wants to get the freshman class in shape as early as possible. But the wait list can have a ripple effect. Some years ago a major college accepted several hundred students from the wait list -- and then those students, who had already told another school they were attending, withdrew. So the second school went to its wait list. And so on...
See, it's just one giant puzzle, not life and death. Even if, right now, it sure feels that way.