Waitlist strategy

Waitlisted? Don’t Give Up Hope. Write a Letter of Intent.

News you have been waitlisted at one of your top-choice medical schools can bring a range of emotions. It’s not the desired outcome, of course, but the game isn’t over. Their admissions committee still sees you as a worthy applicant, capable of handling the rigors of the program.

The number of students who are admitted each year from the waitlist varies based on the school. Highly ranked and competitive programs will typically admit fewer from the waitlist than those further down in the rankings, as they will have a higher yield (acceptances resulting from initial admissions offers).

You can influence your chance of being selected from the waitlist of any school by continuing to showcase your interest in their program. Just as it is critical for medical schools not to overfill their incoming class, they do not want to have empty seats when the school year begins. Therefore, if you can show that you will improve their yield, a key component in medical school rankings, they will be more likely to send to you a letter of acceptance. Engagement with the program through visits and meetings with professors, admissions directors, and current students is an effective way to show interest. But don’t forget to craft a compelling letter of intent too. It should include the following:

  • Meaningful updates since you’ve submitted your application. Did your research study finally get published? What have been the key takeaways in that internship you began in August?
  • Reiterate your interest in the school by citing specific courses, experiential learning opportunities, professors, etc. that make sense given where you’ve been in your life and career so far and where you want to go. Why do you believe you are a good fit?  What will you bring to the incoming class? How will their program help you achieve your goals?
  • Mention any experiences you’ve had on a campus visit/tour or during your interview that increased your commitment to the school.
  • The Yield Protection Statement: “Medical School X is my first choice and, if admitted, I would absolutely attend.” If you can make such a statement, this will be the most impactful component of your letter.

As the waiting game continues, keep in mind that many schools do not use “rolling waitlists.” Instead, they often wait until they have received final admissions decisions from prospective students on May 15th. After this date, prospective students will only be able to hold a seat at one medical school. While prospective students can withdraw from a school if they are accepted from the waitlist into a preferred school up to the point of matriculation, students cannot hold a seat at both schools.

Good luck!        

Yield Protection: Know What You’re Up Against and Use It To Your Advantage

Colleges and graduate programs will do whatever it takes to protect their yield and won’t spare any expense.  Admit weekends will wine and dine prospective students with dinners at faculty clubs, organized social events and panel presentations featuring the school’s best and brightest alumni, faculty and current students.  Admissions departments will send gifts to admitted students and, in some cases, like that at a women’s college in Decatur, Georgia, school officials may even mail out a booklet containing scented pages to prospective students.  Admits of Agnes Scott College could smell pine while viewing a photograph of campus trees and a few pages later, got a whiff of freshly mowed grass while looking at an aerial shot of the Quad. 

Admissions directors and marketing managers will jump through all kinds of hoops to ensure admitted applicants matriculate as students in the next class.  But, why?  What are their incentives?  As long as programs get a full class eventually, why should it matter?  The answer is that it all comes down to rankings, as a school’s yield percentage is a significant player in the race for the top slots.     

Besides these obvious activities to woo admits, schools are also guilty of manipulating the admissions process, a practice commonly referred to as ‘yield protection.’  Some programs will waitlist average applicants so admissions directors can see who is interested enough to fight their way in.  Other programs will waitlist higher than average applicants if they believe these applicants would receive interview and admissions offers at more elite institutions.

As an applicant, instead of getting frustrated by these practices, use them to your advantage in the application process.  Whether you are applying to college, medical, law or business school, or other graduate programs within the arts and sciences, don’t forget the following tips:

Make Absolutely Sure Admissions Directors at Your Top Choices Know Their Program Is Your First Choice: Attend forums and recruiting events where you can introduce yourself to deans and admissions directors and reiterate how excited you would be if admitted to their institution. 

Put It In Writing: After events, send hand-written thank you notes to everyone you spoke with and, of course, drop in a line about your strong desire to attend if admitted.

Be Proactive: Don’t just attend scheduled events.  Arrange school visits through the admissions office and set up one-on-one appointments with various faculty members, deans, admissions directors and current students.  This not only shows your strong interest in their school, but this will also benefit you during the interview when you will be able to speak in-depth about the school’s offerings.

If You Are Waitlisted, Take Action: Visit the school if you haven’t already, send a letter with updates on your candidacy with a particular emphasis on how well you would fit in at your first choice school, send an additional recommendation letter and keep communication open.  You may think it could be annoying, but occasionally following up with admissions committees is a good way to reiterate interest and keep at the top of their minds.   

During a time of manipulative yield protection activities and marketing tactics that include scented brochures, you must arm yourself with the knowledge of this game and use it to your advantage.  In a few years, when you are studying on the quad of the reach school where you were initially waitlisted, the smell of that freshly mowed grass will be that much sweeter.