At Penn, waitlisting is a courtesy, not a reason for hope.
According to the Admissions Office, between 2,400 and 2,500 students were placed onto the waitlist this year — about two-thirds of the number of students who were accepted. Only 75 to 200 — between about 3 and 8 percent of waitlisted students — are expected to gain acceptance.
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda added that the waitlist is usually meant as a courtesy. For example, if Penn cannot accept any applicants from a given high school, it may waitlist some of those applicants in order to maintain a relationship with that school. This logic, Furda said, even applies to parents.
“Although that waitlist isn’t an offer of admission, there is a distinction [from a denial] with phone calls that we have with high schools and sometimes with families,” Furda said.
Levia Nahary, master college admissions counselor at IvyWise and a former admissions officer at Penn, said that it has become increasingly difficult to get off college waitlists as applicant pools have increased. “It’s kind of like when your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you but they say, ‘Let’s still be friends,’” she said.
Even though the vast majority of waitlisted students will never receive acceptances, Furda said that the number of students Penn places on its waitlist is relatively small compared to the overall number who apply.
Penn's acceptance rate holds steady at 9.9 percent
“To waitlist another couple thousand students out of an applicant pool of 37,000 ... puts it in perspective,” Furda said. “That shouldn’t seem out of bounds.”
Nahary confirmed that waitlisting is often useful in upholding good relationships with schools and families. “It does other good things in terms of diplomacy and relationships,” she said.
But for individual students, placement onto the waitlist is generally not a reason to get hopeful. “It’s sort of a ‘We like you, but we like a bunch of other kids better than you,’” Nahary said.
Still, Nahary does recommend that waitlisted students write letters to the admissions offices of schools that have waitlisted them, indicating their commitment to the school and providing updates on any recent accomplishments. Then, she said, it is important to accept the reality of the situation and get enthusiastic about the schools to which they have been accepted.
“[Students] have to recognize that there’s other schools out there that are thrilled to offer them admission and thrilled to have them come in the fall,” she said. “The schools that want them are the schools where they’re going to shine.”
However, for two Penn students, patience and persistence resulted in the rare but often coveted waitlist acceptance. Wharton freshman Laura Gao said that after she was waitlisted, she created a “Draw My Life” video in which she filmed herself drawing on a whiteboard and added a voice narration discussing ways in which her application could have been improved. After she submitted it to the Office of Admissions, she was accepted.
But despite her acceptance, Gao said that her time on Penn’s waitlist was an upsetting experience. “You’re always having this hope that may or may not come true,” she said. “Being waitlisted sometimes is almost worse than being rejected.”
College junior Samir Zaman said that after he was waitlisted, he emailed the Admissions Office every few days with updates about recent achievements, totaling up to 12 emails.
“It was embarrassing,” Zaman said. “It feels like you’re scraping. It’s a really terrible feeling.”
However, Zaman added that if he had not been accepted, he would have been happy to have at least made it to the waitlist.
“I think I’m happier that I was on the waitlist, because at least I got to that tier,” he said. “If you’re on the waitlist, keep trying.”