Why Turning Down Your Acceptance Offer Won’t Get Your Friend Off the Waitlist


Here’s a situation playing out all over the country right now. You have an acceptance letter from a university that you’re not quite keen on, or maybe it was your safety school. A friend or acquaintance or classmate is on the waitlist for that school. You think “hey, I’ll tell them I’m not accepting the offer, and maybe that spot will go to my friend.” You’re a great egg, you. And we like you. Your heart is in the right place. But the waitlist, in most cases, doesn’t work that way.

College Waitlist Chances and How It Works

First of all, to answer the big question: Is being waitlisted bad? No. It’s not. And every school has their own method for creating a clearing their college wait lists. But the truth is, college waitlist statistics can be incredibly sobering for a student hanging out waiting. Schools are using a complex algorithm to pull people needed in certain majors, dorm space, and other demographics. The most selective schools in the country will eventually offer admission, on average, to under 2% of their waitlist.

RELATED: Five Steps to Get Off the Waitlist

So if you, a female student who got a spot in engineering at Fancy University say you don’t want your spot, your guy friend, who wants to major in forestry, isn’t going to get accepted.

Let’s Talk About Yield, Baby

While you’re only going to do this once, universities do this admissions game every year. They have a really good idea as to what their audience and eventual yield is going to be. “Yield” is the term admissions departments use to describe the group who will accept the offers. The admissions cycle goes like this:

  • Go out and talk to students, give tours, send viewbooks and postcards
  • Get applications from a bunch of highly individual students
  • Make offers to those students based on space available in departments and colleges, dorm space, and a huge variety of factors that only they know
  • Know that some of those students are definitely going to accept, and a fair number are “maybes” and some just don’t know but they definitely hope they come
  • Create a waitlist of the best of the alternates that still fit those offer spots if needed because their yield projections fell

Sometimes, colleges get a huge number of students accepting their offers, and their yield goes through the roof. Sometimes, not as many people accept, and they scoop up almost everyone on the waitlist. But most of the time, the most selective schools don’t need to touch the waitlist because they know where the yield numbers will fall. So you see, giving up your seat does not directly impact the opportunity for your friend.

The Waiting Game

So what CAN your friend do to get off the waitlist at the school they desperately want to attend? Tell them to visit that school again, and speak with a counselor. Tell them not to be desperate, but that they should plead their case. An individual attempt and a relationship can help when there is a spot. An active, engaged and eager student is better than just sitting around waiting.

And you really are a good egg. Keep those good friends, no matter where you all end up after senior year.

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