A Wait List of Woes for the Class of '08

The record number of rejection letters sent out by colleges this spring is heartbreaking.

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The record number of rejection letters sent out by colleges this spring is heartbreaking. But what many students—and colleges—are finding more agonizing is the record number of applicants on wait lists. The share of schools using wait lists appears to be rising from last year's 40 percent, and many schools have significantly increased the number of students who will have to wait until May, June, or even later to get a final acceptance or rejection. (Tips for getting off the wait list and onto campus are online at usnews.com/waitlist.)

Ohio State University had no wait list last year but put 600 students in admissions limbo this spring as a buffer against economic troubles that might cause admitted students to choose cheaper colleges or work. The University of Vermont increased its list by about 20 percent to more than 3,000, for similar reasons.

The University of Pennsylvania placed 2,300 students on its wait list—up more than 500 from last year. Some of its Ivy League competitors stopped admitting students early and increased their financial aid, making it more difficult for Penn to predict which school that students accepted at several colleges will choose.

"I do feel for them," Eric Kaplan, Penn's interim admissions director, says of this year's wait-listed applicants. Admissions officers now have to sift through pleas from students who—in their efforts to be among the 30 percent of wait-listers who get delayed acceptance letters—often submit more than just the preferred single well-written letter of continued interest. "Don't send roses. No chocolate. It doesn't work," Kaplan says.