Computer servers at colleges across the country notice a spike in activity on Friday afternoons at around 5 p.m. during the months of March and April. Five o'clock is the standard release time for college notifications; students find out if they have been accepted, rejected or wait-listed. This year, when April Fool's Day fell on a Friday, the irony wasn't lost on most high school seniors.
Informing students on Fridays reduces some of the "next day drama" in high schools; the 5 p.m. notification diminishes the reflex response of parents to contact admissions offices asking for explanations. Finding out on Friday gives students a buffer -- the happy students can celebrate, the unhappy students can cry, share their misery with those closest to them and begin considering Plan B.
So what exactly does being wait-listed mean and how should you respond? As a wait-listed student, you're in purgatory with a choice of either continuing to wait and see if you'll be accepted or choosing closure by telling the college you're no longer interested.
When colleges notify you of your wait-list status, they'll ask you to decide whether or not to remain "active." Unless you actively declare that you'll stay on the wait-list, you'll be considered "inactive" and removed from consideration. Read and follow the instructions carefully.
After informing them that you are interested in staying on the wait-list, consider the following:
*Contact the admissions office to try and obtain as accurate an assessment of their wait-list history and their best guess for this year's class. Wait-list acceptances vary dramatically year to year, depending on the number of students who accept their offers.
*Write a letter demonstrating your continued interest. If you're certain you will attend if accepted, be sure to let them know. Before you write the letter, do more research on majors and identify a specific course or professor that interests you; convey your enthusiasm. Let them know how you will contribute to their college.
*Update your application. Send a new transcript with first semester grades and a revised rank in class. Inform the admissions office if you have any new extracurricular activities, accomplishments, honors, scholarships, awards, employment, internships, etc. Submit any new and improved standardized test scores.
*Ask the college if they will accept an additional letter of recommendation.
*Evaluate your back-up plans and accept another offer of admission. You might not be notified of the outcome of the wait-list until summer. You need to make a decision by May 1, accept and pay a deposit.
*Recognize that you are not in the driver's seat. Do your best to not take this personally. And try to put all of the acceptances, rejections and wait-lists in perspective. They are not a barometer of who you are as a person or of the success you'll have in life.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.