The waitlist: one of the least understood (and least fun) places to be. For students, it feels like limbo. Here are some answers to common questions about the waitlist.
Do I Still Have A Chance?
Understandably, this is the first question I often get asked by both students and parents. The answer is yes...sort of. Technically, there's definitely still a chance you could get into the school, but many schools waitlist hundreds or even thousands of students, and take fewer than fifty from that number. Some schools, depending on the year, don't go to their waitlist at all! As an example, in 2020, Cornell waitlisted 6,750 potential members of the class of 2025, and admitted just 190 of those. To look at a somewhat less selective institution, SMU waitlisted 2,043 in the same year, and eventually admitted 340 of those people.
So, there's a chance. But the fact is that most selective--especially highly selective--institutions waitlist thousands more people than they will admit.
What Should I Do?
If you want to stay on the waitlist, you should be able to indicate this in your portal, and should do so as early as possible. Many schools will give you instructions about how to proceed: if they do, follow the instructions you're given! They may be looking for an additional piece of writing. If so, include any updates as to your achievements or grades as well as information about what you like about the school. If you would definitely enroll if admitted, make sure you say that--it's probably your most powerful card to play.
Be sure you're following the college's instructions perfectly--if they indicate they'll accept more letters of recommendation ,provide them....but otherwise, don't do so. You don't want to give them material they don't want. Make sure that whatever you do submit isn't just a generic statement of interest, but truly personalized to the college. Think of this as your last chance to sell them not just on the idea that you love the school, but that you're a great fit. How will you contribute to campus? What activities might you get involved in? These are questions to answer in your letter of continued interest.
Who Gets In?
The answer to this question varies, but there are some constants. First, unfortunately, the answer is "not many people." The best thing you can do, in fact, is get excited about the places that have admitted you. Students should assume they're not going to get off any given waitlist, no matter how great a fit they are. This includes students with a legacy connection to the school: sometimes, legacies are waitlisted because it's considered a "soft" rejection, or a kind way to say no.
Most waitlists aren't ranked, so it really depends on who accepts their offers of admission. Remember that institutional priorities for most schools are about building a well-rounded class, and the waitlist is simply a tool by which colleges and universities can ensure that they're able to do that.
That being said, students who are more likely to deposit are more likely to get in. In most cases, those will be students who can afford to pay for a school without scholarship money. While it's not entirely unheard of to get scholarship money coming off a waitlist, it is exceedingly rare. Most of the students coming off waitlists are full pay, meaning that they don't need any financial aid or merit money to make the school work for them financially.
You should also keep in mind that you may not hear from a waitlist until summer. Most notifications are rolling. If you want to pursue a waitlist, make sure you deposit elsewhere by May 1, so that you definitely have an option if the waitlist doesn't work out. If you get accepted from the waitlist, you can forfeit your deposit at the other school.
Ultimately, whether to pursue a waitlist is a decision for each student and their family, and our students have certainly come off waitlists to have wonderful experiences at Duke, UC Berkeley, and dozens of other institutions at all levels of selectivity. But students should prioritize the schools that have accepted them as they're working toward making college decisions. Those are places that want you and are prioritizing you...and every student deserves to be someplace that wants them!
The SAT and ACT are an intimidating part of the college process for most students, and the fact is that even in today's test-optional era, many students are still applying with scores. While every student is different and testing is by no means needed for everyone, for students applying to selective schools it may still be a good idea, depending on a number of factors.
But once you've decided to test, what then? How do you pick which test to take, and how do you prep? Here are a few thoughts (and please note that this info applies to the classes of 2023 and 2024--past that, you're dealing with the new SAT, which will be it's own post when we know more.)
What are these tests for, anyway?
The SAT and ACT both purport to measure college readiness...but they don't. Study after study shows that these tests don't correlate to your high school grades, how well you do in college, or what content you know. (In fact, SAT used to stand for Scholastic Aptitude Test...but they don't use that language anymore because it is proven to not be a great measure of aptitude!)
Instead, think of them as admissions officers do: a tool that allows them to compare students across contexts. For example, students from two different high schools in two districts in different states may both have taken a class called "Algebra II." But is the curriculum and the level of material the same at those two schools? Did they absorb the same content? Standardized tests are an additional point of comparison besides grades.
Which Should I Take?
Good news! You can take either test--no college cares which you submit (although policies vary as to whether or not schools superscore, taking the highest test sections even from different sittings, or not.) You also have control over who sees your scores and which they see: except for just one or two schools, you get to pick which scores and which tests to send for consideration as part of your application.
Which Test is Better for Me?
The two tests take different approaches. One of the best ways to determine which might be better for you is to take an ACT practice (or the Pre-ACT, if it's available to you) and compare that to an SAT practice or PSAT scores. About 30% of students do much better on one test or the other (sometimes a difference of more than 100 SAT points of improvement simply from picking the right test!). Careful test selection is key, especially since most kids don't benefit from splitting their energy to prep for two exams.
I'm always happy to chat about the right test for any particular student or to provide, score, and analyze a practice exam of either type, but understanding some of the key differences between the tests is a great first step for both parents and students. Click the button below to download a handy comparison chart. It covers everything from structure and timing to scoring and content.