There’s just no easy way to say it. There’s no funny intro or creative analogy. And frankly, it sucks for everyone. To understand the student experience (which we’ll delve into next week), you first have to understand the college’s perspective.
The Admission Experience
The waitlist is a reminder that I’m not very smart. If I were better at my job, I could predict exactly how many students each year would accept our offer of admission (a term known as “yield,” which is the percentage of students who say YES to your offer and choose to enroll). In fact, if I were really good, we’d have 100% yield (the national average is 33.6%). In this perfect world, all of our new students would come to campus smiling, earn 4.0 GPAs, retain at 100%, graduate in 4 years, get high paying and highly fulfilling jobs after graduation, name their babies after the admission director… you get the picture.
Georgia Tech’s freshman class size is 2,800. As a public school, our mission is to serve our state and expose all students to a world class education in a global context. Part of that education means enrolling students from states across our nation and countries around the world. Our ideal undergraduate population is approximately 60% from Georgia, 30% from other states, and 10% international students.
Due to finances, proximity, name recognition, rankings, girlfriends, and perceptions that people in the south do not wear shoes or have running water, our yield projections are based on demographics. In recent years, our yield from Georgia has been approximately 63%, 35% from abroad, and 24% from states around the country. We constantly analyze yield by state, gender, major, etc., but at the end of the day, although data, history, and trends are helpful, each student is different, each family is different, and each year is different.
Method Behind the Madness
Maybe I’m going into too much detail here, or belaboring a point you basically got after the first sentence: I’m not that smart. Essentially, the waitlist exists to accommodate for demographics that were not met in the initial round of admission offers. If you have the right number of deposits from the West coast, you go to your waitlist for more East coast students. If you have enough Chemistry majors, you may be going the waitlist for Business students. Ultimately, the job of admission deans and directors is to make and shape the class, as defined by institutional priorities. Meeting target enrollment is critical to bottom line revenue, creating a desired ethos on campus, proliferating the school’s brand, and other factors.
If we come in with too few students, we lose revenue and are unable to fund initiatives and provide opportunities for the students who are here. If we overenroll the class, we run into issues with housing, inflated student-faculty ratios, quality of classroom discussion, space for labs, and long lines at Chick-Fil-A. I hate being blamed for all of these things, but walking into the student center just to get a coke and having someone tell me to stop enrolling so many students because the lines are long is just annoying.
Making the Phone Call
How waitlist offers are made vary by college but it’s not atypical for a school to offer four to six students a spot from the waitlist just to convert one after the May 1 national deposit deadline. It’s logical, as students have mentally committed elsewhere by that point. They’ve deposited, bought the t-shirt, attended an admitted student day, and met future classmates on the Facebook group.
I hate calling a student and hearing simultaneous excitement and pain. Pleased to have the option, but also realizing the option creates a quandary. Conversely, other students quickly dismiss the call quite brashly. “Nope. I’m going to X.” It’s the proverbial finger, and I get it. In fact, I remember Bucknell offering me a spot from their waitlist after I’d already committed elsewhere, and it kind of felt good to turn them down. On our side of it, it doesn’t matter who X is, we lost– And nobody enjoys losing, right?
In part 2 of this series, we delve into the student experience of the waitlist.
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