As universities across the country grapple with uncertainty about whether campuses will open in the fall — and if students will return — experts say that colleges, even notoriously selective ones, are looking to waitlists to fill the Class of 2024. But Penn Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said the school is not admitting any more waitlisted students than usual.
After accepting a round of waitlisted students on May 7, Furda wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that the virus has not caused the University to increase their waitlist size or admit more students off the waitlist this year. However, he previously wrote in a blog post April 2 he "fully expect[s] the wait list will be utilized heavily this year."
Penn usually admits a very small number of students from its waitlist, and Furda has previously said the waitlist serves as a courtesy to students, families, and their high schools. Last year, out of the 2,051 students who accepted an offer to stay on the waitlist, 101 were admitted to Penn. In 2018, only nine students were admitted out of the 2,561 students who accepted an offer to stay on the waitlist.
Brian Taylor, managing director of New York City-based college admissions consulting firm Ivy Coach, believes private, exclusive institutions will ultimately admit more waitlisted applicants this year after speaking with many college admissions officers. Taylor said schools are especially anxious about international students possibly not being able to arrive on campus for the fall semester, and about domestic students who may choose to take a gap year instead of beginning their freshman year in an atmosphere impacted by the pandemic.
“Colleges waitlist students when they're uncertain, when they don't know if they're going to hit the number that they want for their incoming class,” Taylor said.
Unlike students accepted to Penn via regular or early decision, students accepted off the waitlist cannot apply to take a gap year for their first year on campus.
“For all those Class of 2024 students who are so upset that they could be starting college online, and you know that's not ideal, but this was the year to apply to college,” Taylor said. “We've had students get off waitlists who had no business getting off of these waitlists, they had no business getting into these schools. This was one of the easiest years to apply to highly selective colleges in years.”
Andrew Belasco, chief executive officer of North Carolina-based education consulting firm College Transitions, echoes Taylor.
“More students are landing on the waitlist than previous years. I think that's to be expected given that COVID has made attendance less predictable, so there's a lot of uncertainty,” he said.
Though more incoming college students are considering a gap year instead of returning to campus, Taylor believes most admitted students will not take a gap year as the coronavirus pandemic has left many confined at home with little to do amid worldwide lockdowns and travel bans.
Students applying to colleges during this pandemic are increasingly prioritizing a closer proximity between their university and their home, The New York Times reported. According to Belasco, students in College Transitions who have gained admission to both an Ivy League school and a local university are carefully weighing the options between these two kinds of institutions.
“Even though they'd rather be at Penn, they're doing this kind of cost-benefit analysis,” he said. “They realize the benefits of being closer to home outweigh the benefits that they may get from that bit of a bump in selectivity associated with Penn.”
But despite the ambiguity of the fall semester, some first-year students accepted from Penn’s waitlist have committed to attend the University.
Incoming College first-year Morgan Zinn committed to Penn after being accepted off the waitlist on Thursday. After committing to attend Vanderbilt University when he was accepted earlier this spring, Zinn will now attend Penn in the fall.
He emailed multiple letters and Penn-themed memes to Penn admissions officers from April through early May, but received no response until the official Penn admissions portal update in May.
Incoming College first-year Sara Forastieri received an acceptance off of Penn’s waitlist on May 7. Though she said Penn has long been her “dream school,” she has yet to accept its admission offer, and is not sure whether she will commit to Penn or stay committed to Georgetown, where she was accepted through the school's Early Action program in 2019. Though the coronavirus prompted her to consider a gap year, she ultimately decided against it because she is not yet certain where she will attend school.
Incoming College first-year Juliann Chiu, who was also accepted off the waitlist on Thursday, committed to Penn, as she expects the University to provide a stronger financial aid offer and an educational quality than other schools she was accepted to. She added that she has met two other students accepted off of Penn's waitlist who are keen to attend.
While the common deadline to formally accept a college's offer of admission is May 1, many schools have extended their deposit deadline. Penn, however, has not extended their deposit deadline nor changed their deposit fee for students admitted regular decision or off the waitlist. Students accepted off the waitlist have a two-week period to notify Penn of their commitment decision.
While most highly-selective schools traditionally admit students off the waitlist in three waves, according to Taylor, both he and Belasco anticipate students will be taken off university waitlists through late summer months depending on their enrollment numbers.
Taylor predicts universities may have to add an unexpected round of waitlist acceptances in order to fill their intended class size.
“Is a school like Penn gonna have a vacant slot? No, Penn wants their tuition dollars, and they're going to fill that slot with a waitlist applicant," he said.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that nine waitlisted students were admitted to Penn out of 2,561 students who accepted an offer to stay on the waitlist for the fall 2019 admissions cycle, when those were in fact the statistics from the fall 2018 admissions cycle. The DP regrets this error.