College Wait Lists Run Amuck

Has it become a status symbol to end up on a college wait list?

During a fundraiser at my son’s high school last night, a mother shared with me that Duke University had waitlisted her son. She appeared to be bragging when she shared this news.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that Duke had also placed 3,382 other applicants on its wait list. That’s an increase of more than 850 students from last year’s waitlisted crowd. It’s likely that no more than 60 or possibly far fewer will be liberated from this list.

A daughter of a close friend of mine likes to emphasize all the elite schools that have waitlisted her: Georgetown, Vassar, Barnard and Bates.

While it’s remained difficult to get into elite colleges like these, it appears to have become much easier to get on meaningless wait lists. Frankly, Duke and many other elite colleges should be ashamed of placing so many students on their wait lists.

Here are three other crazy wait list examples that were in The Washington Post on Friday:

  • Georgetown University: 1580  freshman slots,  1177 waitlisted
  • University of Virginia: 3,240  freshman slots,   3,750 waitlisted
  • College of William and Mary: 1,400 freshman slots,  1,415 waitlisted

Two thirds of the nation’s colleges and universities can manage just fine without a waiting list. And according to National Association for College Admission Counseling, 30% of students get off wait lists. But that’s obviously not happening at elite schools, which are clearly abusing the practice of wait lists while raising false hopes to thousands of students.

This might seem cold-hearted, but I’m not sympathetic to the students, who end up on the wait lists of elite schools that routinely reject nearly everyone. You can see the reasons in my recent post: Waiting List Cry Babies: Stop the Tears.

What I find sad is that so many students are pining their hopes on suitors that have spurned them. This prevents these teenagers from getting psyched for their grand adventure at whatever colleges they end up at. And that’s a shame.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.

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