Record waitlist leaves applicants in flux

Josh Goodman

For Kevin Dyerly, Director of Admissions, the work doesn't end once acceptance letters are sent out. Credit: Klein.

For Kevin Dyerly, Director of Admissions, the work doesn't end once acceptance letters are sent out. Credit: Klein.

The college application saga came to an end on April 1 for most high school seniors. But for a record number of Whitman applicants this year, the response to their application was being neither admitted nor declined, but landing a spot on the waitlist.

Among the class of 2013 applicants, 550 were waitlisted, compared to 426 for the class of 2012. In addition, 132 applicants were offered the Jan-start option for Spring 2010; if they accept that option, they can choose to have a spot on the fall waitlist as well.

“The primary reasons for the increase in the size of the waitlist are [that the] overall quality was very strong and we have many talented students in the pool that we could not admit but would like to [and second] to help us potentially meet enrollment goals if concerns about the economy lead fewer students to accept our offers of admission,” said Dean of Admission Tony Cabasco.

In fact, the Office of Admission anticipates a decline in the percentage of admitted students who matriculate. They’ve already admitted more students than they otherwise would for this reason.

Still, there may be good use for the waitlist.

“It’s really hard to predict what will happen this year given the recession, concerns about financial aid, and general uncertainty in the air,” Cabasco said. Though anywhere from zero to 35 waitlisted students were admitted during the last three years, that trend may not hold this year.  

In addition, Cabasco said that only about one-third of waitlisted students will accept a spot on the waitlist in the first place.

“Given the talented group of students who apply to Whitman, the students on our waitlist have often been admitted to many great colleges and universities,” he said.

One such student is Emily from New Jersey. She responded to an inquiry from The Pioneer through an online college applications forum, College Confidential, but chose not to provide her last name.

“Whitman is most definitely my first choice,” she said. “I love the idea of being able to get a top education in a more laid-back atmosphere.”

But she realizes her odds of getting off the waitlist may be low.

“Being on the waitlist is emotional torture,” she said. “I want to try so badly to move on to a different school because I know my chances of admission are slim, but at the same time I can’t give up the prospect of attending my number one school.”

If she doesn’t end up at Whitman, Emily said she will probably attend the University of Vermont.

Meanwhile, she’s doing all she can to try to get off the waitlist.

“I wrote a letter stating my continued interest and that I would one hundred percent attend Whitman if admitted,” she said. “That was last week, and this week one of my teachers offered to write me a recommendation. I guess I’m just trying to make contact every week. Next week I’m planning on making a short personal call to the admissions officer for New Jersey.”

Admission Officer Joshua Smith said that demonstrating interest can help markedly.  

When looking at the waitlist, Smith said that admission officers want to know whether Whitman is the student’s first choice, how long they want to remain on the waitlist, and whether anything dramatic has changed, such as GPA or receiving an academic or extracurricular award.

“A lot of students can communicate that once and they’re fine,” Smith said. “They’re not going to increase their odds by calling four times.”

An additional teacher recommendation can help, too, if there’s a significant update.

For this year’s waitlist, though, it boils down to space.

“We would have no trouble getting nearly anybody off our waitlist in terms of the quality, class profile or diversity initiative,” Smith said. “The issue…is simply one of space.”

With a record number of applicants, it only makes sense that the college has a record number of qualified students