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Once upon a time, I was a high-school senior with questionable blonde highlights, a stellar resume and a head full of dreams about my amazing future — all of which began and ended with me attending The One Perfect School. TOPS, I was convinced, was going to make me an interesting person. I was going to come back with new clothes and new ideas and new friends, who were minor royals or former Olympians or from exotic countries like England. I would therefore be awesome.

TOPS mailed out decisions, and I couldn’t stand the wait the afternoon it was set to arrive, so I went to a friend’s house. Katherine plied me with cookies (mostly so I couldn’t speak), and when I finished I rambled about This Big Important Decision as she and her dog stared at me with skepticism and pity. Finally she sent me home. With trembling fingers, I extracted the envelope from the mail.


This year, thousands of kids across the country — more than 3,000 Penn applicants alone — face the decision about whether to keep the embers of hope alive, or throw in the towel and pick another school.

So waitlisted students stalking, take it from someone who sweated it out on the waitlist only ultimately to be rejected: Choose a college before May 1.

It’s tough to say, but the wisest thing at this point is to accept the decision and move on. Anyone who has experienced a death is probably familiar with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Getting waitlisted kicks off a similar, albeit much less traumatic, psychological process.

After the sucker-punch of not getting something you’d always (at least for the past six months) dreamed of, and second-guessing every decision you’d made since eighth grade, you convince yourself that if they take anyone from the waitlist, it’s got to be you, because of ‘x’ reason. You monitor semi-legitimate admissions message boards to see if anyone has heard anything and you put off Facebook friending everyone on your hall at your “backup” school because there’s still that chance you get off the waitlist. The drumbeat of coulda, woulda, shouldas continues into the fall, as you ponder majors and friends and heartbreaks and compare them to the idealized parallel life at TOPS.

The reality is that, even while waitlisted, there’s little chance you’re getting in; even then, it’s a more capricious process than the original decision. At Penn, according to Admissions Dean Eric Furda, the office expects 60 percent of waitlisted applicants to accept a spot on the waitlist. Last year, about 180 students were admitted from the list; this year, they anticipate pulling fewer. The ones who are selected are chosen to fill an extremely specific niche — nothing you have control over.

In a recent New York Times article, Duke Admissions Dean Christoph Guttentag admitted that, had the office had more time, they would have thinned the waitlist so fewer students had to be in a holding pattern. Given the swollen applicant pools across the board, it’s not a leap to infer this happening at other institutions as well. So unless applicant pools shrink or the admissions calendar is expanded (both seriously unlikely), an increasing number of students are going to be waitlisted in upcoming years.

So that leaves it up to the waitlistees. Picking a school immediately gives the student back the agency in the decision, and feeling like you actively chose to attend a particular college allows you to be much more excited about the upcoming four years. Until April, the entire college application process is about schools choosing students, and now it’s about students choosing schools. Staying on a waitlist subverts that process. Choose now, and forever keep your peace.

Alyssa Schwenk is a College senior from Ottumwa, Iowa. She is the former Editorial Page Editor of the DP. Her e-mail address is That’s What Schwenk Said appears on Mondays.

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