The letters all start the same. They say something about how the school had more qualified applicants than ever before, how the admissions board deliberated over who to take for months on end. And finally, it had made a decision not to decide; You were being put on the waitlist.
My senior year of high school, I was lucky enough to receive only three of these gems. One of my good friends this year was not so lucky; she opened up seven waitlist letters this spring, a personal example of an emerging pattern: More students are placed on university waitlists than ever before.
Years ago, “waitlist” was hardly even considered a possible outcome. Today, with more students applying to more schools thanks to the ease and utility of the Common Application, the waitlist has become a viable option for a greater number of admissions committees. Usually most of the students on the waitlist are never contacted again. The idea behind the waitlist is perhaps to let students down a little easier.
I disagree. I personally would much rather receive a rejection letter so I could make plans to move on and move forward. The process of being strung along instills a sense of false hope and misplaced confidence.
This year, Georgetown University placed 1,200 high school seniors on the waitlist; in 2009 they pulled only 181 students from a list of similar size. The waitlist seems more like a torture device than a list of potential students if you ask me.
Having received acceptance letters only to schools which I did not want to attend, I had no choice but to play the waitlist game. An entirely new college application process within itself. It involves more recommendations, letters about why you want to go to that school and updated resumes. Some of my college counselors even recommended that I physically visit the schools at which I was waitlisted to show how much I cared. It also involved a lot of anxious waiting in the lead up to another deadline — one that some schools adhere to and others don’t. Some universities give their waitlist-ers a four-month window during which a student “may” hear from them. Those were probably the worst.
Thankfully, Georgetown promises to inform students of a final decision — which even includes the possibility of being put on a further waitlist — by the beginning of May. When I finally heard from Georgetown University, it was good news: I had miraculously been accepted off the waitlist. I was part of the small percentage of those who had a golden ticket.
Despite the turmoil, the reward became almost worth it. Trust me, when you choose a college six weeks after your friends and classmates, people are more excited and less competitive. But after the initial shock and fun of receiving acceptances in the middle of May, something else sets in. You were not originally welcome to come. Your university didn’t always want you.
I was not invited to GAAP weekend. I did not get a new student packet in the mail. I never received my “Hoya ’14” shirt, and I never met the other Georgetown students from my area. As a matter of fact, a Georgetown upperclassman mentioned to me that there was a good chance that my future roommate and I could be put in a random part of McCarthy Hall or elsewhere because I had been waitlisted. I was an afterthought, a burden, a replacement for someone better who had apparently defected. During New Student Orientation, an emphasis was placed on how “special we all were” to be at Georgetown.
At some point, I accepted it. I actually became quite proud of the fact that I was on the waitlist. It is certainly a part of my Georgetown experience that I like to share as I try to break the waitlist stereotype. I want other students to be aware that most people know someone who did not initially receive an acceptance from the school at which they attend. Even though they didn’t want me at first, I persevered. I am a Georgetown student just the same.
Maggie Cleary is a junior in the College. She is the director of executive outreach for Georgetown University Student Association and the director of campus affairs for the Georgetown University College Republicans.
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