College Waitlist: What to Do to Maximize Your Chances

College Waitlist: What to Do to Maximize Your Chances

Some colleges and universities can’t admit all of the students they would like to, so many are put on the waitlist. And this year, COVID-19 might significantly impact yield, meaning more colleges will need to go to their waitlist to fill the incoming class.

Despite more schools possibly needing to go to the WL, getting admitted from the waitlist is not easy. However, it is possible with some work! Although I do not suggest being overly optimistic, there are strategies that have worked for students in the past that I am going to share in this post. Of course, if you want individualized guidance, we can provide it, so please reach out.

First, get familiar with the WL data from past years. How many students are offered spots on the WL? How many accept their spot, and more importantly, how many does school X ultimately admit? Some of these numbers are dismal, but it is best to know what you are up against rather than sit hopefully in the dark. Look at the Common Data Set first (http://www.commondataset.org/). A few other sites to review:

Before getting busy implementing waitlist strategies (below), it is important to deposit at a current top choice school (a school where you have been admitted) and get excited about the prospect of attending. Take advantage of admitted student days and other events that connect you with potential future classmates, including joining “Class of 2024” Facebook groups. These forums are often very informative, fun, and can help you take your mind off the waitlist waiting game.

Once you have accepted a spot on the WL, deposited elsewhere, and familiarized yourself with the waitlist data, I suggest considering the strategies below. Not all of them are novel, but without much to lose, why not do all you can so you can look back without any what-ifs?

  1. Write a waitlist letter. This letter should contain information updating the school on what you’ve been up to both inside and outside of the classroom since the time you applied. Consider including:
    1. A paragraph or two of “academic” updates. Spend some time talking about coursework and school projects, and make connections to future courses of study. You can even drop in related courses you’d like to take at school X, like those you’d include in a Why School essay, but only do this if you did not submit an essay of this type when you applied, otherwise you are being redundant and that is not well-received.
    2. A paragraph or two of “extracurricular” updates but only if significant and can be connected to how you will add value to the school where you are deferred. This includes school and non-school clubs, service commitments, and/or other leadership experiences you can highlight. Like the academic paragraph(s), making connections to similar opportunities you plan to undertake in college can be helpful additions. For example, if you talk about a new project you spearheaded as VP of your school’s Interact Club, you may want to include that you hope to lead a similar project within a specific club or group at school X. Being very specific is important.
    3. A paragraph that talks about the additional ways you have connected with and continued to get to know school X since you applied. This could include setting up an informational interview with a local alum, a current student, reaching out to your local regional alumni group (more on this below), or continuing to connect with your regional rep via email.
    4. A paragraph that reiterates your interest in the school, and that if admitted, you will attend. *If you are not 100% committed to attending, do not say so in the letter.
  2. Send your waitlist letter to your regional rep (if an option) or upload it on your applicant portal. Ask whoever you address it to if they have any advice for you as a waitlisted candidate. Keep this line of communication open; do not email updates every week, but stay in touch to continue to demonstrate interest.
  3. Ask your guidance counselor to call the admissions office and advocate for you, as well as provide any additional information they may have that will support your candidacy.  Ask them to back up what they say on the phone in an email if they have time and are willing. Make sure they send updated grades/transcripts promptly. Your grades should have remained the same or gotten better, not dipped.
  4. Obtain and have an extra letter of recommendation sent, but only if the school welcomes extra LORs (some schools explicitly state on their WL docs they do not welcome or want extra LORs). A teacher, coach, or someone else close to you who can speak to your potential contributions to the university could draft this letter. *Side note on alumni letters­ and letters from well-known and or famous people. Many students ask if these are helpful to send, and the answer is no unless the person knows well you or they are a very high-level donor with solid connections to admissions (even then why count on someone else?!?). If you think that a big name vouching for you will help, it generally doesn’t as a stand-alone factor, and officers can see through these often brief and less than meaningful notes.

Consider the following strategies in addition to the tried and true tips above:

  1. Check if school X has a local alumni group (Google search) and if so, reach out to them and ask if there is anyone willing to meet with you via Zoom or Skype for an informal informational interview. Use this meeting as an opportunity to learn more about the school, and demonstrate your interest in attending.
  2. Use social media to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to follow your WL school on FB, Instagram, Snap or other social channels, or Tweet to them your desire to attend. Don’t forget to open all email correspondence from the school, as schools track opens/clicks as interest.

I’m often asked if I think doing everything on this list is too much, and I do not. All of these strategies are acceptable forms of demonstrating interest even when combined. Accepting your spot on the WL is a standard, required communication. Sending a waitlist letter, and even a follow-up email after a few weeks (for example, to inform admissions of an award at school, National Merit, a promotion at work, or admission to a selective internship/summer program) is not communication overkill. When a counselor calls a school on your behalf to advocate for you or facilitates the sending of an extra letter of support sent, it’s not viewed as bothersome.

Now… showing up on campus and begging, pleading, showering everyone in the office with gifts, staying for two hours until someone meets with you, or other over the top gimmicks or antics would be looked down upon, so please understand that this type of behavior is not appreciated or welcomed. The good thing is, you can’t show up on campus now, but I am leaving this note as a reminder of the level of inappropriate that is a big no.

Ultimately, you want to look back on being waitlisted and feel like you gave it your best shot!

More questions about the WL? Email us!

 

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Why Did Yale Choose You

Why Did Yale Choose You

Although I did smirk reading the subtitle Embracing Average, I really enjoyed Alexandra Gers’ reflection in the Yale News on her application file and why Yale chose her. Anyway, what stood out to me was this:

When I flipped the page, it was kind of like being slapped in the face. “She didn’t strike me as thoughtful, introspective or determined.” Repeatedly. “I couldn’t figure out what she was passionate about.”

For high school students targeting (or preparing to target) selective colleges and universities, take note:

  • Thoughtful
  • Introspective
  • Determined
  • A clearly defined passion (I don’t love the word passion so let’s call this “interest”)

 

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The Best Summer Programs for High School Students: Entrepreneurship

The Best Summer Programs for High School Students: Entrepreneurship

We have broken out entrepreneurship programs into a new post because of the popularity of exploration in this field. And yes, we know many summer programs will not run this summer, but we are going to share anyway for anyone looking ahead to next summer 🙂

Find some of our favorites below!

LaunchX

Join a highly-curated group of promising young entrepreneurs from around the globe for four intense weeks. You’ll learn from industry experts and work in a group of peer co-founders to build real products and solve business challenges in viable ways. LaunchX isn’t a business plan competition – students start real companies. These startups are driven by using the design thinking process to discover innovative opportunities, backed by extensive market research, multiple iterations of prototypes and user testing, and gaining traction through getting real customers and partnerships. Learn more here.

Cornell University, Social Entrepreneurship: Transforming Lives, Resolving Problems

This highly interactive, award-winning program tackles nothing less than helping you identify your hopes, dreams, and plans for transforming yourself and the world. The course is fast-paced and largely discussion-based. Under the leadership of Dr. Anke Wessels, you’ll learn the fundamental principles for solving problems, fostering innovation, and creating change—and you’ll then apply this knowledge to your own social venture. Learn more here.

Babson College, Introduction to the Entrepreneurial Experience

Introduction to the Entrepreneurial Experience allows you to develop your problem-solving and teamwork skills that you can apply in limitless settings, including business, nonprofit, government, and your career. In this course, we “learn by doing” and explore social, economic, and environmental problems through an entrepreneurial lens. You’ll gain exposure to key concepts in entrepreneurship, management, marketing, finance, business communication, and other disciplines. Learn more here.

The University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley Business Academy for Youth

Great ideas are everywhere. Yet, great businesses built on top of great ideas are far more rare. B-BAY, a proven business program for youth, lets you experience the powerful combination of great ideas and great business sense by developing a business idea and creating your team’s business plan—all in just two weeks. Learn more here.

Non-“Program” Ideas We Love

Khan Academy Modules

Free Online Classes from Top Colleges & Universities

Books

  • Outliers
  • Lost and Founder
  • The Lean Startup
  • Good to Great
  • Zero to One

Internships/Job Shadow/Volunteer

  • Ask us about this one via contact form here!

 

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We’ve Got You!

We’ve Got You!

We know this may be an uncertain time for you and your family, and we want to make sure that you know we are here to support you as you await your admission decisions, decide where you want to enroll, and try to figure out the rest of the school year.

If you are already working with us, please know that you can reach out at any time.

If you are not working with us and you need support as you navigate enrollment options or the transfer application process, please reach out. We are happy to answer questions at no charge, as appropriate (be mindful there are limits as to what we can advise on at this time), if you can no longer receive support from your in-school counseling staff and teachers. You can reach us through the contact form or via social media.

If you know a student without support at this time, please have them reach out.

Keep checking back as we post about important admissions-related updates. A few include:

ACT & SAT Testing Updates

The College Board and ACT are canceling and rescheduling some spring test dates. ACT updates are here and SAT updates are here. Students should plan to check for updates regularly, as things have changed very recently.

NACAC College Admission Status Update

NACAC has developed a tool that compiles updates from colleges and universities about how they are adapting to the impact of COVID-19. Many colleges are changing policies around school visits, deadlines for replying to offers and submitting enrollment deposits, and sharing other ways to get in contact. Please find the tool here.

Stay healthy and positive!

 

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Campus Visit Canceled? How to Get to Know Colleges Online

Campus Visit Canceled? How to Get to Know Colleges Online

The in-person campus tour is not the only or even the single best way to get to know a school, which is a good thing considering COVID-19 is causing most schools to cancel their on-campus visits programs. Neither is that gigantic Fiske guide, College Confidential (that site is stress-inducing, please stay away from it, same with Reddit), or what your older sibling or cousin told you based on findings from their college search process.

Meaningful college research should take place in several different ways, and luckily, it can take place from the comfort of your own home.

Here are five ways you can continue your college research and get to know schools while on-campus visits are on hold.

College/University Websites

Read the websites of the schools on your list, and not just the admissions and financial aid pages. I would read those—but to understand how to apply, not why to apply…unless it is one of the admissions office/officer’s blogs that I talk about here, as those might help you see why you’d want to attend.

I suggest starting with the pages of the department in which you hope to study (or think you might hope to study). What does the curriculum look like? How many and what types of classes are offered? Are there affiliated clubs, events, other special programs of interest? Find a faculty member who is undertaking research in your area of interest and reach out to them with three or four questions you have about the program or their research that you can’t find answers to online. If they are unable to speak to you, ask if they can suggest someone else who might be able to help. Can’t get through to any faculty members? Contact the department’s administrative assistant or department coordinator and see if they can help you make an initial connection. For example, here you can find the contact info for the program coordinator of Penn’s Department of Psychology. If not, ask your regional rep to help you get this information.

I also suggest pinpointing two or three clubs you might want to join. See if you can connect with a current student or faculty lead within each to learn more. Most club’s general admin contact info is posted online. Here is the contact info for Fordham’s Finance Society, as well as a zillion contacts for USC student clubs.

Lastly, you might want to get a sense of what the campus looks like and can do so via a virtual tour if you can’t go in person. Many colleges provide virtual tour options now. For example, here is one created by Santa Clara University in California.

CampusReel

Speaking of tours, whether you can get to campus in person or not, you will want to check out CampusReel for an insider look at the colleges and universities on your list. Real college students submit video clips that take you through a day in the life, dorms, dining halls, classrooms, and so on. For example, I enjoyed this video from a UC Santa Barbara student on what she wished she knew before she started. You will also get a pretty good sense of what the campus looks like in reality as the guides are not employees of the admissions office, and what you see is probably closer to what you will get compared to the virtual tour created by the school.

Coursera and edX

If you can’t get to campus and glimpsing a school’s academics firsthand is important to you (it should be!), then head over to Coursera and edX and sign up for a class. They are free, informative, and you might learn something, not to mention they give you an extra talking point (or ten) for application materials and interviews. You will get a sense of what college-level courses entail, and I also see it as a way to demonstrate interest. A few classes I like and have had students take include:

Network with Local Alumni Groups

Don’t know anyone who went to your dream school? Look no further than your local alumni group. If you are not sure if your area has an alumni group, ask Google. I entered “NYU alumni club NJ” and got the link to info on the NJ group right away. You will be sending a cold email but I don’t see anything wrong with that. You are showing interest in their alma mater. If someone is a member of their alumni group, they probably like to connect with people like you. You are demonstrating a desire above and beyond other prospective students to get to know the school, and they love their school! That is never a bad look. And if no one replies to you, at least you know you tried. If there is no local or regional group where you live, try to locate one closest to you. Again, there is really no downside to trying to connect with alumni to learn more about their school.

Social Media

Not the best way to get to know a school well, but some college accounts are not half bad. I follow a few schools on Instagram, and the “takeover” stories by admissions office staff and students can be insightful. I particularly like the UChicago and Barnard pages.

If you believe in finding a school that is best matched with your goals for college (not just a school with a certain brand, good sports team, etc.), the above outreach will help you figure out which school that might be—so use this time to get researching!

 

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Kids Don’t Need to Stay ‘On Track’ to Succeed

Kids Don’t Need to Stay ‘On Track’ to Succeed

When parents portray success as a linear progression of SAT scores, acceptance to selective colleges, and high-powered internships, they set kids up for disappointment.

An important article by Madeline Levine (for parents and students!) that you can read here via The Atlantic.

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March Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

March Monthly Action Plan – By Grade

 

Seniors:

  • Many of you will be waiting on final admissions decisions, and then finalizing your college plans this month into next. Happy deciding, and don’t forget to thank everyone who helped you along the way.

Juniors:

  • Please make sure you are engaging in extended research/outreach with the schools on your list. Are you going to sit in on a class? Do you want to try to meet with someone in your intended department of interest (major, minor, etc.)? Have you been reaching out to and talking to students or alumni? Not all schools offer formal pathways to these opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them happen.
  • Continue prepping for and taking standardized tests, as well as updating your resume. Now is also the time to confirm your summer plans.
  • Are you curious about which schools super score the ACT? SAT? Some schools super-score one test but not the other! Read more here: https://www.compassprep.com/superscore-and-score-choice/
  • Interested in seeing some schools? Take a tour via CampusReel. Visiting campus in person is great, but you won’t be able to tour all of the schools on your list. Plus, formal campus tours can be a bit limiting! CampusReel is one of my favorite ways to get a real insider look at colleges.

Sophomores and Freshmen:

  • Have you thought about what major(s) you will mark on your application? Most schools don’t hold you to it (you declare a major by the end of sophomore year at most schools), but they do want to better understand your academic interests and potential major path. Does your resume/activity sheet speak to your academic interests? Now is the time to start thinking about this!
  • Next summer is a wonderful time to do something meaningful, perhaps even fun, that will help you explore your interests and tell your story for college! Keep in mind: you don’t need to take a class for credit or attend a formal summer program. There are many ways to spend your summer that are beneficial.
  • Continue working on your resume/activity sheet. Some summer programs and internships may ask for this, so it’s useful to have it handy.
  • Interested in seeing some schools? Take a tour via CampusReel
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10 Do’s and Don’ts for Writing the Personal Statement (aka The Common App Essay)

10 Do’s and Don’ts for Writing the Personal Statement (aka The Common App Essay)

Our essay experts know best. Check out these 10 tips from Emma that will help you write the most effective personal statement. End of 11th grade or early summer is the best time to tackle this important essay, so start coming up with a plan now! Interested in working with Emma? Contact us 

  • Don’t worry about the prompts. It’s helpful to read through the prompts to see if doing so sparks any ideas; however, there is no need to stress about writing an essay that exactly “answers” a prompt. Your goal is to write the best essay you can about whatever you decide is best to write about. Working with students 1:1, we totally disregard the prompts and usually find that their essay still easily fits under one of the questions. And, if not, there is often an open-ended prompt such as: “Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.”
  • Do open with a scene. A strong opening scene draws the reader into your essay. Admissions officers and their first-round readers have hundreds of applications to get through—make yours stand out from the first sentence. Intrigue them or scare them or make them laugh. Make them want to keep reading.
  • Do focus on a single story. You only have 650 words. Perhaps that sounds like a lot to you: it’s not. There is no reason you should worry about filling it up. Through our process, you will find out how to generate enough detail to write an essay about any story. Nor should you worry about cramming as much as possible into the personal statement. Remember that colleges have all of your application data and that trying to do too much in the essay will only end up making your essay feel rushed and scattered.
  • Do make sure that your story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. You can tell your story out of order—for instance, opening with a scene from a stressful moment in order to build suspense before jumping back into chronology—but you always want to make sure your story has each of these elements. Skipping any single one will confuse your reader and make your story feel incomplete (because it is!).
  • And yet don’t get bogged down in detail. We usually find students have trouble generating enough detail. But sometimes we get a student who is unable to summarize effectively, too. Having too much detail can make your story confusing and also mean that your reader will have trouble understanding what the most significant elements are. It usually also means you don’t have room for reflection—the most important element in the essay!
  • Do present yourself in a positive light. We actively encourage you to tell a story that showcases your vulnerabilities, failures, weaknesses, and mistakes. However, either your narrative or your reflection (or some combination of the two), needs to ultimately redeem you so that your essay, in the end, shows you to be someone who is actively working to improve—to rectify mistakes, move past failures, or strengthen weakness. Your essay should be honest, but its main purpose is to make you seem like someone admissions officers want to see at their colleges! Make sure you come off well.
  • Don’t use huge thesaurus words. Again: you aren’t trying to impress the admissions officers! You are trying to show them who you are—and you are trying to make them like you. Using big words can mean using words you don’t quite know how to use, and that will show. Even if you do know how to use them, unless your essay is about how much you love long words or languages, using the big, 25-cent words can make you sound pretentious and overly formal. The language should sound like you and be relatively casual—not curse-word, talking-with-friends casual, but maybe talking-with-your-grandmother casual.
  • Do use vivid, interesting words and varied sentence structure. Being casual doesn’t mean the writing shouldn’t be good or interesting! Do push yourself to use words you might not use in your everyday speech, and do mix up the sentence structure to keep the writing varied and exciting. Do feel free to include words from your personal vocabulary—words from the language you speak at home or from a regional dialect or words you’ve made up. That can add a lot of texture and personality to an essay. Just make sure you define the words for your reader if the meaning isn’t clear from context.
  • But don’t use emotional language: I was happy; I was sad. Instead, let an action depict the emotional state. That is, instead of saying “I was happy,” you might write, “I couldn’t help skipping a few steps down the street after hearing the news.” And, instead of saying “She was sad,” you might write, “Her shoulders slumped, and she cradled her head in her hands.” You can’t see an emotion, and you always want to give the reader something to see.
  • And don’t use cliche—i.e. common, predictable, overused—language. Cliche language includes (but is definitely not limited to!) phrases like:
    • I need to be true to myself.
    • Time heals all wounds.
    • Every cloud has a silver lining.
    • Good things come to those who wait.
    • I learned more from them than they did from me.
    • Every rose has its thorn.
    • You win some, you lose some.
    • Little did I know.

Of course, your essay might have one of these messages at its heart. Maybe you did learn more from the kid you tutored than they learned from you. Maybe you did find the “silver lining” in a terrible situation. Both of these could make for great essays. But you want to verbalize that realization in your own unique and surprising way.

 

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February Action Plan – By Grade

February Action Plan – By Grade

Seniors:

  • Once your applications have been submitted, be sure to track the status of each app online to ensure all of your application materials were received. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a college is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. Check your junk email folder regularly (daily), so you do not miss correspondence from colleges.
  • Interviews! Sign up for interviews for all of your RD schools as soon as possible (where available/and if still open), if you have not done so already.
  • For RD schools, consider writing interest letters to go out early this month—no later. If you have defer letters/essays that need to go out, get those out ASAP, too.

Juniors:

  • Keep prepping for standardized tests (ACT, SAT, SAT Subject tests) and working hard in all of your classes; your grades this year are very important.
  • Do you know what major(s) you will mark on your application? Do you have a clearly defined academic interest or set of interests for your college apps? This is a critical part of your application that should be determined now.
  • Continue working on your resume. Some summer programs, internships, and interviewers may ask for this, so it’s useful to have it handy.
  • Next summer is a wonderful opportunity to do something really meaningful, perhaps even fun, that will help you tell your story for college! Get those plans in place now.
  • Meet with your school counselor about your preliminary college list and go over your goals and plans for college visits.
  • Speaking of college visits: Are you going to sit in on a class? Do you want to meet with someone in your intended department of interest (major, minor, etc.), or a current student? Not all schools offer formal pathways to these opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them happen; this all falls under what I call ‘extended research/outreach’ and it can be highly beneficial. **After visits, even if you only attend a general info session and take a tour, please send your regional rep and any admission representatives you met a follow-up/thank you email** This opens a line of communication with someone at the school, and demonstrates interest. I also recommend keeping a document with any notes and observations from your visits. These notes will come in handy when writing supplemental essays and/or when writing a deferral letter, or letters of interest.
  • Take a college tour via CampusReel. Visiting campus in person is great, but you won’t be able to tour all of the schools on your initial list. Plus, formal campus tours can be a bit limiting! CampusReel is one of my favorite ways to get a real insider look at colleges.
  • Some colleges open up their on-campus interviews this spring. If you plan to interview on an upcoming visit, please prepare. You should always prepare for interviews, even if a school states they are not evaluative.
  • Start to think about your senior year schedule. Do you know what you will be taking? Your senior classes should be the most challenging of your four years.

Sophomores and Freshmen:

  • An impressive academic record is the most important admissions factor at most colleges. Work on creating smart study habits this year.
  • Will you be taking SAT Subject Tests this spring or starting your SAT or ACT prep this spring/summer? Begin to decide on a testing schedule and plan for how you will prepare for these exams.
  • Many 2019 summer program applications are now open. Please begin thinking about your plans for summer 2019 and work on applications if needed.
  • Start to think about next year’s course schedule. Do you know what you will be taking? Your classes next year should be more challenging than this year.
  • Now is the time to build your academic profile for college, and this means pursuing what interests you academically and intellectually outside of your classes. Have you gotten more involved with any academic extracurricular activities? Have you thought about what you might want to major in? Think about ideas for new and different activities or how to get more involved in your favorite activity (academic and non-academic); exploration now will help you begin determining what you might want to study in college. A great place to start exploring your academic interests is Khan Academy: https://www.khanacademy.org.
  • One way that your “story” is conveyed in your app is through your resume. Keep working on yours this month.
The College List: Balancing Risk

The College List: Balancing Risk

University of Michigan psychologist Clyde Coombs developed an innovative theory of risk. If you are going to make risky investment, you protect yourself by playing it safe in other investments. Successful people do the same thing in their daily lives balancing out risks in their portfolio. When we embrace danger in one domain, we offset our overall level of risk by exercising caution in another domain.

This is a good way to think about building your college list.

Some students like to take a big risk with their top choice school. Not always a good idea, but here’s where making good use of different application plans might be beneficial in balancing that risk. If you know Cornell is an “aspirational” school for you—beyond a reach—I would advise to not apply there ED. However, if a student decided they wanted to go for it (and I could not change their mind!), I would strongly advise they balance that decision by applying EA to a range of schools with different levels of selectivity that they liked. For example, UNC, U-M, Penn State, Ohio State, Richmond, and Clemson. I would also advise applying to all of these EA schools if the ED school choice was a bit more reasonable, say, Wake Forest. It is just a good strategy to apply EA along with ED!

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