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Articles / Applying to College / How Did I Get Waitlisted By My Safety School?

How Did I Get Waitlisted By My Safety School?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | March 15, 2014

Question: I can’t understand how I got waitlisted by my safety school. My SAT scores and GPA are way higher than the school’s average. Even more puzzling is that a classmate, with a lower school ranking and a much lower SAT score, got accepted. What could be the reason? And what should I do now? After this all of my schools are more selective. What if I don’t get into any of my schools? This school is Case Western.

Sometimes admission officials work in mysterious ways. The admission committee at Case may have decided that, despite your strong grades and test scores, you hadn’t given any indication that you were truly interested in enrolling, or perhaps you were sloppy with deadlines.

Another thought is that you may require a lot of financial aid. Even if you are a strong applicant, if your financial need is very high, the college officials might have decided to put you on the waitlist until they see how much money is left in their budget after making financial aid offers to more desirable candidates. Some colleges that are “need-sensitive,” as Case is, can decide to take two decent but not stellar applicants who don’t require a lot of aid rather than one somewhat stronger student who does. So sometimes when an applicant is waitlisted or denied and sees that a weaker classmate has been accepted, it could be that money is at the root of the decision. If you are an international student (not a U.S. citizen) and you applied for financial aid, then money is very likely to be behind your Case outcome. Most colleges set the admissions bar far higher for international applicants who need aid than they do for U.S. citizens and permanent residents (who qualify for U.S. Federal funds).

If none of the above potential reasons applies to you, it’s also possible that the school made a mistake. This doesn’t happen often, but it can happen. For example, I recall a time when one college’s new software went haywire, and so the test scores of some applicants showed up in the admission office computers as several hundred points below what they really were.

The college might not have caught the error except that an experienced guidance counselor called the admission office to ask why one of his top advisees had been denied. Her profile was far stronger than the typical admitted student at that college, and she’d even applied Early Decision, so the college knew that her interest was genuine.

His call caused the admission staff to take a closer look, and they found the mistake that had affected not just this one applicant but a number of others, too.

So I think you should talk to your school guidance counselor. If your counselor agrees that your waitlisting is mysterious, then perhaps the counselor will call Case on your behalf to find out why you were turned down … or if, indeed, a mistake was made.

In the meantime, if your school uses Naviance, you should be able to access Naviance data to see if other students from your high school with your profile were accepted or denied by Case in the past. If you discover that students with your profile have always been accepted, there still may be some reason why you were not, but it will certainly give you and your counselor more “ammunition” to question your waitlist status, if you contact Case to find out what went wrong.

Just because you received this unexpected news from Case doesn’t mean that you’re going to be denied by the more competitive colleges on your list. It’s possible, of course, but hardly a certainty. If indeed Case waitlisted you because the admission officials didn’t get a sense of commitment from you, perhaps you did show more interest to your other schools.

Once you receive all of your verdicts, if it turns out that you were not accepted by any of your other colleges, then you can lobby Case to admit you. There is a lot of information on the College Confidential Web site about what to do to get off of a waitlist.

But before you start with that, first try to enlist your counselor to help you find out what, if any, were the deficiencies in your application.


Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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