You applied to several boarding schools. But your first choice didn't accept you. Instead, it waitlisted you. What exactly does this mean? And why do schools waitlist applicants? What do you do now?
I can tell you from my first-hand experience that you wonder what you did wrong. Did you make a poor impression at the interview? Were your scores not good enough? The questions are never-ending. As a father whose two daughters both went to boarding schools, I remember well all the second-guessing. So, I am writing this essay from the candidate's point of view and yours. Please share it with your child who has been waitlisted by one or more of the boarding schools she applied to.
What does waitlisting mean?
Most schools typically offer more applicants places than they have for the theory and experience that they will receive enough acceptances to fill all their seats. Calculating the actual yield from the acceptances they have sent out is something experienced admissions officers know how to do almost instinctively. For example, let's say the school has places for 100 students. It could send acceptance letters to 100 applicants. But what happens if only 75 of those families accept the places offered? Having 25 empty seats will wreak havoc with any private school's finances.
That's where the waitlisting comes in. The admissions officers know that if they offer a certain number of applicants over the actual number of places they have available, they will receive the necessary yield of acceptances. For example, using our hypothetical 100 places available, the admissions office sends out 125 acceptance letters. The admissions staff know that historically they will receive 90-100 acceptances when they send out 125 acceptance letters. But what if circumstances conspire to produce the number on the low end of the yield scale? Say they only receive 90 acceptances? That's where the waitlist comes into play. The school will send out 125 acceptances. It will make up any shortfall from the pool of applicants on the waitlist.
I hope that explains how waitlisting works. However, bear in mind that each school has its unique way of deciding who gets an acceptance letter and who gets waitlisted. Your professional educational consultant will be able to tell you how each school on your list handles waitlisting.
What are your chances?
After all the time, hard work, and effort you and your child put into finding, visiting, and applying to the right private schools, you discover that you are waitlisted at the one school you both liked. It just doesn't seem fair. The other two schools to which you applied have offered you places. But you want to go to the school which waitlisted you. So now, what do you do?
Do you stand a chance of being offered a place if your child is waitlisted? If she is waitlisted at a very selective school, probably not. The most competitive schools are least likely to offer places to applicants on their waitlists. This is not the answer any parent wants to hear, of course, but it is what it is.
So, if your first-choice school waitlists you, what do you do? Be practical. Treat that waitlisting as the equivalent of a rejection because, for all practical purposes, that is what it is. Don't fret about the school's decision. It makes more sense to accept a place at one of the schools which has accepted you. The adage applies: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Don't give it another thought. After all, you have already determined that all the schools you applied to were great fits. They meet your requirements. Your child will thrive in any of the schools on your shortlist. Honestly, in the end, that is all that matters. Be content with the fact that your first choice thought highly enough of you that it waitlisted you.
Isn't there anything you can do? Should you call the admissions office and bug them? While it never hurts to express your interest in the school and remain on its waitlist, it is never a good idea to pester the admissions staff. The "Don't call us. We'll call you" policy applies. Instead, drop them a handwritten note and thank them for their consideration.
What happens if you accept a place at one of the other schools on your list and the school which waitlisted you notifies you that it has a place for you? For example, if you send in a deposit and accept a place at one of the schools which has offered you a place, you will forfeit your deposit if the waitlisting school finally offers you a place and you accept it.
This video from Top Test Prep offers advice on how to get off a waitlist.
How to avoid waitlisting
Are you just beginning the process of choosing a school for your child? Then keep the idea of waitlisting out front as you start to define the list of schools you would like to consider. That list should include three categories of schools:
+ schools which are very competitive or a reach
+ schools which your child stands a good chance of getting into
+ schools which are almost certain to admit your child (safe schools)
When you develop your shortlist of schools this way, you won't be disappointed when one of the very competitive schools on your list rejects your child outright or possibly waitlists her. Put another way, look beyond the competitive schools as you explore all your options and develop your shortlist of schools to visit. That will minimize disappointment and stress when the acceptance letters come out in March.
This video offers advice on how to deal with a waitlist.
Be realistic as you develop your list of schools. The safest course of action is to hire a professional educational consultant. She knows her schools. She knows which ones will be a good fit for your child. Listen to her advice and recommendations. You will get good results.
Dealing with your feelings
As I mentioned above, the arrival of a waitlisting letter can create both confusion and disappointment. First, you will feel frustrated having spent all that time and effort visiting schools and applying to them. Your child will be confused because she thought the school liked her and liked it.
Discuss those feelings candidly and honestly together. See the glass as half full. She received acceptance letters at two excellent schools that she likes and which you know will be an ideal fit for her needs and requirements. Those are great accomplishments for any child. But, more importantly, you will be able to teach her that life is full of disappointments and failures. The measure of one's character is how one deals with setbacks and adversities. Do you give up or pick yourself back up, dust yourself, and move on to the next event?
Remember that you will go through a very similar process when she applies to college in a few years. By that time you will understand the process of choosing a school so much better. In addition, you will have the ability to select the college that best fits your needs and requirements because of your experiences selecting the right private K-12 school.
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