4 Reasons to Skip the College Wait List

Last Updated Apr 8, 2011 7:10 PM EDT

What do you do if you're on a college wait list? That's a question that thousands of students are asking themselves this month.

Students who end up on college wait lists are trapped in limbo. Colleges haven't officially rejected the teenagers on their wait lists, but they definitely haven't embraced them either.

So what should you do if a college has shown that it's just not that into you?

Here's my suggestion: tell the college that has wait listed you to get lost. Here's why:

1. The wait list is a charade.

In most cases, students on a wait list won't get off.

Elite colleges, and they are the most notorious abusers of wait lists, put a ridiculous number of students in limbo. Yale and Princeton, for instance, will have about 1,300 students in their newest freshmen class, but they have wait listed 966 and 1,248 respectively. Some heartless schools put 2,000 or 3,000 students on their wait lists. Last year, Duke University, for example, shamefully put nearly 3,400 students in limbo.

Let me state the obvious: there is no reason for this wait list excess.

Schools may deny it, but some of the people who get stranded on wait lists never have a chance. Schools, for instance, will wait list the children of some alumni parents or VIPs rather than rejecting out right. The schools figure that they won't get as much flak if they don't outright reject these applicants. I've known kids who brag about the caliber of schools that wait listed them. Really!

2. The admission season never ends.

Colleges which put students on wait lists expect teenagers to grovel to win a last-minute acceptance. Not satisfied with the amount of effort these kids put into their original applications, colleges want teenagers to court them all over again!

Colleges expect new letters that express undying love for their institutions. Admission officers will be disappointed if semi-spurned students don't keep in contact with calls and emails. But they will get ticked off if these suitors are too aggressive.

I think schools have a lot of nerve requiring all this extra effort when hardly anybody is going to get off the wait list any way. And don't they already have enough information on these students??

3. You could get ripped off financially.

Even if you aren't ready to give up on a college that is ambivalent about you, keep this in mind: if a college does pluck you off the waiting list, it will probably stiff you financially.

Plenty of schools that provide good financial aid turn into scrooges when reviewing the financial needs of the applicants who barely got in before the door slammed. These wait-list survivors shouldn't be surprised when they receive financial aid packages stuffed with loans. And wait-list winners can forget about merit awards.

4. A wait list is a distraction.

Pining for the unattainable prevents you from becoming mentally prepared to attend a school that actually would love to have you.

Bottom Line:

Reject the schools that wait listed you before they turn you down. Evaluate the colleges that would be happy to have you and choose the best fit academically and financially. And then move on with your life.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes her own college blog at The College Solution.

More on CBS MoneyWatch

The Nation's 15 Richest and Stingiest Colleges
What's Wrong with America's Dream Colleges?
Princeton Rejects All Its Applicants

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