The College Waitlist Game Just Got More Interesting

College waitlist coronavirus

The College Waitlist Game Just Got More Interesting

Published May 7, 2020

College waitlist coronavirus


Many high school seniors have put off making a decision about what college to attend, hoping to get a better idea of how COVID-19 will affect the upcoming school year.

That wave of postponement is further shaking the already financially challenged world of higher education to its core, with the pandemic now responsible for losses of hundreds of millions of dollars.

To stop the bleeding, schools are making last-minute changes to processes that once seemed to be set in stone. 

Waitlists: Colleges Are Behaving Uncharacteristically

The goal for schools is ultimately the same: To ensure they have a full freshman class and that the class includes international students, who usually pay full price.

But travel restrictions will severely limit the ability of foreign students to attend. So to achieve their enrollment goals, colleges are getting creative in ways that are more advantageous to students.

Some schools are not only creating much larger waitlists, but offering to:

  • waive deposit requirements,
  • extend the acceptance deadline,
  • provide more financial aid (merit and need based),
  • and admit everyone on the waitlist.

In our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group, and on the Twitter feeds of high school seniors all over the country, students are talking about being “taken off” waitlists (offered admission) that they never thought they’d make.

And in at least one case, someone who was not originally accepted was offered a spot.

Some students report that the offers to be removed from waitlists came suddenly, and they had to decide quickly; others, that they were able to quickly negotiate aid.

Post from a member of our Paying For College 101 Facebook group

For many who were previously undecided, the proximity of the school was the deciding factor—the idea that they could be closer to home in case COVID-19 illnesses spiked.

For those still undecided, some of the same issues remain: cost vs. value in the event schools remain online in the fall; and the inability to visit the school in person to know if the fit is right. 

Eighteen-year-old high-school senior Max Husted, from Danville, California, understands the dilemma well.

As a recent Wall Street Journal article noted, “he was supposed to visit his two top picks—a public university in Oregon and a private school in Southern California—during his spring break.

Those travel plans were scrapped when his state issued a shelter-in-place order.” Although he went online for virtual tours, and talked to students who are currently enrolled, he “still doesn’t feel like he has a good enough sense of the vibe on each campus.”

Johnny Kennevan, a senior at Seneca High School in Tabernacle, N.J., is waiting to make a decision based on the course the pandemic takes.

He echoed the thoughts of many incoming college freshmen when he told the New York Times, “It doesn’t make sense to pay twenty grand to sit at my computer at home and take online courses. I can get the same education from a community college.”

Some students will ultimately decide to take a gap year, or ask to defer acceptance.

Eric Nichols, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Loyola University Maryland, told the Times in the same article that schools will likely work with students who are still undecided as late as this summer, as long as they commit on some level, such as a deferment.

It all comes down to money, and how much wiggle room a school has.

“It’s honestly an issue that’s never been a problem before,” he said, “but this is uncharted territory, so we’ll see.”

The National Association for College Admission Counseling says that “more than 700 colleges and universities still have openings, financial aid, and housing available to qualified freshmen and/or transfer students for the fall 2020 semester.”

This is considerably higher than in recent years. 

Bottom Line

The end result? 

Schools like Holy Cross, UCLA , and even Duke University are playing the odds–offering more students on the waitlist spots in the freshman class, knowing not all will accept.

For many students, as difficult as the college decision is to make, this unprecedented situation is creating unexpected opportunities and options, which translates to power and some sense of control—at a time when students and parents can use it most. 

One last tip – if your student is hoping to get off their “dream” school waitlist, make sure they answer their phones and check voice mail. This could be the first place the admissions office tries to reach out.





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