Of all the possible admissions decisions, being placed on the wait list is one of the most frustrating.  For tips about how to get yourself moved off of the wait list and into the college, business school or medical school of your dreams, please read this post.  For insight into what’s going on behind the scenes, and why you were really wait listed in the first place, please read on.

  • You belong to a coveted demographic.  But they have stronger members of this group to choose from. Admissions officers are unlikely to be this candid with you.  However, the truth is that schools deliberately balance their classes across a variety of factors, including gender, race, and country of origin.  If you have a characteristic that they want – and have trouble yielding – but there are parts of your candidacy that aren’t compelling you may be placed on the wait list in case they need you later.
  • Your numbers are too low.  But they like you! Candidates are often wait listed for this reason.  Basically, you may be wait listed if your test scores or grades are too far below the school’s average, but you bring other interesting qualities.  In this case, the school will wait to see what their matriculating class looks like, and may admit you if they can absorb your numbers and still hit their class profile targets.
  • They have some unanswered questions.  Do you have unexplained low grades or gaps in your educational or work history?  If so, you need to explain them – or the admissions committee will take their best guess about what was going on, and their guess may not be to your benefit.  Also, if you  interviewed and it didn’t go well, or you have an unflattering recommendation but the rest of your application is strong, they may wait list you and try to clarify areas of concern.
  • You are a special interest candidate.  The courtesy wait list is real.  If you have serious connections at a school but aren’t really competitive within the pool you may be wait listed in order not to offend the special interest affiliate.
  • The committee couldn’t agree.  Although it may be hard to picture, the admissions committee is a highly political place.  You may be caught in a power struggle between two members of the committee – and that power struggle may not have anything at all to do with you.

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than $70 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 98% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.
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