Are Wait Lists Worth the Wait?

Posted by Neal Schwartz on April 10, 2018


Are Wait lists worth the Wait?

Now that most of the regular college decisions are out, there are an increasing number of students who are waitlisted and not sure what to do.  Recently, it seems, many colleges have drastically increased their wait list numbers, leaving students on hold and on edge.  I was disturbed by this increasing trend and started on a mission to analyze the data to get to the bottom of it.   This post will give some insight and perspective into the conversation.


History of Waitlists

Colleges have a certain number of classroom seats and dorm rooms, leaving a finite number of physical spaces to accommodate students.  Compare the college waitlist to the airline industry; there are a calculated number of passengers who intend to fly but then have their plans change.  Balancing things to keep customers happy, while taking care of the elite frequent flyer,  is a real challenge from a business and customer satisfaction perspective.  Watch the boarding gate area’s overhead monitors, listen to the announcements and notice the anxious standby passengers on a crowded flight.  Just like colleges, airlines use tools to predict what may happen, considering so many factors. And just like the airlines, the colleges are trying their best to fill every seat.  

Compare that scenario to college admissions, where qualified students are applying to an average of 8-12 schools.  Not too long ago, when students were applying to 6-8 schools on average, wait lists were not so massive.  College applications are now growing at a rapid rate.  Michigan grew their applications by about 60% in 5 years.  Villanova grew theirs by 38% in 4 years.  Cornell’s list grew nearly 25% in 5 years, and Lehigh’s grew 20% in that same time period.

Today, it is not uncommon for a college to waitlist almost the same number of students they accept for admission.  

You can probably blame the common app for three things: 1) Increased cost of the application process. If a student adds three schools, multiply the cost per application, and add SAT/ACT score submissions and additional college visits. 2) Reduced admission rates based on more applications per college. 3) longer waiting lists based on #2 above.   While some trends progress reasonably, some appear  to grow exponentially.  How else can you explain the statistics in the chart above?  What if the airlines accepted as many passengers on the planes as they put on the waitlists?  Can you imagine the spectacle at the gates, in the news, on social media? 

To be safe, colleges have been over subscribing their classes through waiting lists.

What other factors could be affecting their decision to load up on waitlists? 

  1. The tools they have are working perfectly:

Historically, they know that to fill the gap between accepted students and those who choose to enroll, their ratios are needed to get the correct yield.

  1. They have lousy predictive tools:

They have been burned badly in prior years, and their prospective student population is extremely volatile and truly unpredictable.

  1. They provide the waitlist as a “soft” reject. How do you tell a legacy parent that their student won’t be accepted?  A waitlist is a softer blow; it’s not a denial.
  2. Some combination of the above factors:

Increasing applications are appealing to colleges, with the accompanying prestige of the perceived increased selectivity.

Recent data points to an increase in waitlists over the past 5 years

My first thought was to examine the correlation between the acceptance rate and the absolute number of possible admissions. I wondered if schools with the lowest acceptance rates would have the highest wait lists.  But the data showed that waitlists were all over the place.  Schools that were accepting a higher percentage of applicants still had very large waiting lists. 


I wanted to take a closer look.  What you will notice from the following chart is that some schools put almost as many students on a waitlist as they accepted, and then only accepted around 2-7% off of the waitlist. 


What I found disturbing was that a few schools, such as Tulane, put a huge number students on their waitlist and accepted no one off of it.  Other schools with higher admit rates put an even greater number of applicants on their waitlist and accepted a good number of them, but still nowhere near the number on the list. Why put students through that torture? Sure, a waitlist, by its definition, should be an opportunity to help a college fill a class late in the cycle, but why put so many on it?


My kid is on the waitlist, what should they do?

What looks like a simple question has become very difficult, as colleges are dealing with their application growth.  Think of it like the shy adolescent who felt somewhat awkward and never thought they would fit in, but now everyone wants their friendship.  Sometimes, in that transitional space, mistakes are made.  But, should you:

  • Write to the school?
  • Visit the school?
  • Call the school?

The answer depends on the school.  Some schools give explicit instructions NOT to contact them.    Many parents will question that, thinking that by contacting the school they can determine if they should still stay on the list and continue waiting.  It is generally accepted that a simple note, addressed to the local admissions rep and telling of the student’s continued interest in the school, is most appropriate. If there is additional, new information or a meaningful award that could enhance their waitlist application, that should also be sent.

Getting the call

If efforts during the “wait” work, you will receive a call saying that you are accepted but must agree with payment and signature, often in a 24-72 hour period.   This is not always an easy decision to act on so quickly, since the student may have already, happily settled on another college. Acceptance to what once seemed to be the school of their dreams, may no longer hold the allure it once did. 

Related recent articles on Waitlist: 

National Public Radio (  College Waitlists often waste would-be students' time. 

Princeton Review:  Wait, Wait, Don't Admit Me, or Will I Ever Get off the Waiting List?


If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, college advice, college wait lists

Why you still need a college advisor in a D.I.Y. world

Posted by Neal Schwartz on March 08, 2018


Thanks to shows like "Sweat Equity" and others on the DIY and HGTV networks, we have become accustomed to "Do it yourself."   This DIY movement encompasses financial stock picking, selling homes, fixing things at home, etc.  So, why pay for something when you can get it done for less?   

The more specialized and significant the area, the greater the risk of trying to do it yourself.   When factoring in quality, time, and cost, some DIY attempts may not be too smart.  

While saving money by fixing your own grill, shopping online for a wedding gift, or any other long list of quick and convenient solutions is noteworthy, getting help for some porton of the college process can be the difference between simply "getting in" and getting in with the right "fit."  


Here are 4 reasons why having College advisors is a good investment: 



Reason#1 - The significant cost of college and impact on the student's future is substantial.  

College costs range between $100,000  and $300,000 per student.  Multiply this by the number of children that you have and the cost is clearly substantial.  For many families it may even exceed their home cost. Getting the best return on this investment for your kids' academic and career future is paramount.  If your son or daughter transfers schools, takes longer than four years to graduate or is not employable when they graduate, then the cost can have a huge fiscal and emotional impact.



Reason #2 - parent's are blinded by the greatness of their children

Parents are too emotionally connected to their children and are often blinded by their love. They are too biased and may have an unrealistic view of how their child is perceived by someone else.  Maybe they really will be the next American Idol, or maybe they just like to sing and are completely average. A college advisor will see a student for who they are and what they are truly worth in the marketplace of college admissions. A great college advisor will have an objective opinion and will be able to truly assess a student's strengths.


Reason #3 - there is just too much information to keep track of


The amount of information that colleges provide is available online through many sources.  How will you know what information really matters for your child?  How will you analyze all of the data to make it worthwhile for their college process?  What information matters in the admissions decision overall, and what matters to specific schools?  Is the information that you hear from other parents accurate?  Is it something that was once true, but is no longer true? Is it just hearsay?  Who will guide you with a professional opinion?


reason #4 - you need to assimilate all of the information and make a thoughtful decision

While certain information can be helpful in addressing a single question, it is possible that being too microfocused on one important fact may lead to overlooking an equally important fact.  For example,  a student who may not have a chance at a school using regular decision may have a much better chance at the same school applying early decision. Conversely, a student who over-reaches their early decison choice may be wasting their ED choice.


REASON #5 - your daughter's guidance counselor may not have the time 

Let's assume that your child's guidance counselor has the experience, but may not have the necessary time to spend with your child.  Based on their workload beyond college counseling and the number of students they work with, guidance counselors usually will have a tough time meeting your family requests as you navigate the process.


Fact #6 - A college advisor is objective and can see beyond the "Numbers" and "branding" to get the best fit for the student.


Will a parent feel comfortable letting a student go with their gut, or will they try to inflict their own wants and desires on the student's college selection and decision?  Additionally, many parents and students are strongly influenced by "branding" of colleges and certain college majors.  Although test scores and AP classes are important factors, students can increase their chances of admission by focusing on their college application essays and in communicating their potential contribution to the campus. A student who has been tested with successfully juggling a number of activities outside of school has deomonstrated their ability to succeed in a challenging academic college environment. An advisor should have the student's best interest at heart and will know what colleges are looking for. 


FACT #7 - when a student works with an advisor, the student can begin to take ownership of their future as an adult 

Watching a student mature through the college process is enlightening.   There is a much greater chance that a student will grow with an outside coach than by just working within their home environment and support system.  The expertise that an college advisor can provide to a student is appreciated and can work wonders. 



If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, college advice

The mystery behind the college interview

Posted by Neal Schwartz on January 30, 2018


What is the difference between an on-campus interview and an alum interview?

Why doesn’t the school that my daughter is applying to require an interview?

My daughter was just asked to schedule an alum interview?  What should they do?

Did she not get in because of her interview?


There are a multitude of questions regarding the interview,  and unlike the consistency students, parents, and counselors understand about academics, AP’s and SAT/ACT tests, the interview is a different animal altogether.


Prior to the Common App and the increasing number of college applicants, interviews were expected as a part of the process.  Now, with the sheer number of applicants, it is not possible to grant every student an interview on campus. Schools that promote geographic diversity and publish that their current students come from X states and X countries need to offer alum interviews or travel directly to the communities and schools to hold local interviews


Fact #1 - On Campus interviews are limited at most schools


college interview-1.jpg

The advantage of the on-campus interview is that demonstrated interest is confirmed somewhat by the trip itself. It may also be possible to meet with the admission rep responsible for the student’s state, county or city. If that occurs, the rep is likely to be in their comfort zone and more able to listen.   On the other hand, due to the volume of candidates, the interviewer is not always someone with a salaried position in the admissions department and may not be responsible for that student’s home region, which could be a disadvantage.


Fact #2 - The timing of the interview is important

Due to scheduling, some students may be granted an interview before they submit an application,  whereas others may only do so AFTER they submit their application. A student with an earlier interview may not be as practiced and additionally may be less interested than that same student AFTER they have visited other schools and have submitted their application.


Fact #3 - Interviewers may be either a responsible admissions person, an alum or other college representative


The alum interview is the most curious element of the college process, as there are varying degrees of training for the alum.  Typically, the alum does not receive their list of interview candidates until AFTER the application is submitted. Due to the complexity of the application, it is standard practice that the alum interviewer only gets the student’s name and contact information  and does NOT get to see any data from their application.


Fact #4 - Interviews are either informational or evaluative

This is one fact that is difficult for parents, students and counselors to deal with.  In the business world,  the winning candidate is usually one who succeeds in the interview.  Sometimes, but not always, that is true in the college admissions process. Even when an alum is interviewing a candidate, they are at a severe disadvantage in that they are NOT able to view the student’s complete application, including recommendations, etc. Their role is to evaluate the student’s presentation skills, personality, and strengths, without the other background information.  Compare this to the business world where the interviewer almost always has a copy of the resume and other information in front of them.  Also, the alum interviewer is not always privy to the directives of what type of candidates the school has or is seeking.  Often, only a written report will be submitted and incorporated into the overall file.

When was the last time you went on an informational interview?  Were you trying to buy something?  Was somebody trying to sell you something?  Were you choosing to buy a home?  Were you engaged in a conversation to work with a financial advisor or wealth manager?  Let’s be clear, think of evaluative as having direct influence on the decision, and informative as merely shopping.  The former is made by the college, and the latter is to help  the student decide if they have enough information to make a valuable decision.


Fact #5 - Oftentimes the Alum is engaged in the interview process for the Alum’s benefit (not for the student’s)

This point is difficult to swallow, especially for those applying to the top 100 schools in the country.  Strong alum connections are one of the reasons that students are attracted to top schools.  If you are in the “club,” it can be a huge benefit.  “Club” members typically thrive on trusting other club members first. The, “You can’t go wrong by hiring a Princeton Grad,”  saying is prevalent in much of our society. But let’s break this down into its elements:

  1. Alums are unpaid volunteers and may have a varying degree of commitment to their interview responsibility.
  2. Although the college will briefly educate alum interviewers, there is a gap in admissions and college knowledge that is not bridged by the college’s efforts.
  3. Getting Alums to interview is one of the best ways for a college to keep them involved and connected. The reason that this matters is that there are parallel efforts with many alums to solicit gifts to the college.
  4. It is not clear what level of impact alum interviews have on the ultimate admissions decision.
  5. Most alum interviewers are NOT given any application information about the student in advance, presenting little ability to engage in anything but a report back to the college
  6. The ultimate decision maker is some combination of the admissions officer responsible for the territory/region and the admissions committee. 


Fact #6 - The Cause and Effect of the College Interview is not as clear as the Business Interview

With admit rates at the most competitive schools  between 5% and 20% for qualified candidates, it is hard to determine whether the interview was the reason that a student was, or was not, admitted.

Many parents relate their business interview experience to the college interview, but there are some distinctions that should be noted:

          Business InterviewBusiness interview.jpg

  • It is rare that someone would be hired in business unless they had a strong interview
  • Sometimes great interviews do help candidates land jobs.
  • Business Interviews are usually granted after the resume and other information is reviewed.
  • Interview screening is done by those that are not the Business owners

          College Interview

  • Not all colleges interview, which begs the question about its overall usefulness.
  • Alums are similar to the non-business owners, (described above), in that they don’t have to live with their decisions.
  • Alums cannot be the decision makers, based on their minor role in the process.

 other business interview.jpg

What students should do on their interviews:

  • Be themselves - Be comfortable
  • Demonstrate their passion(s)
  • Learn to listen
  • Ask pointed questions
  • Know the school


Why the interview is still a good thing regardless of the outcome:


No matter what the outcome, the overall college interview opportunity is huge and should be valued as a gift.  The skills practiced within the interviews: contacts that may be established, demonstrations of confidence, poise, integrity, etc. will be helpful for future jobs, internships, graduate school, etc.


If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 



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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, admission trends, college advice, college interview

The Elusive College Admission Process (and Some Current Trends)

Posted by Neal Schwartz on November 13, 2017

what do colleges want?

It used to be a lot easier for students to apply to college:  Get an application by mail, fill it out, and mail it back.  Early decision and early action were not significant players in the process. Even the most selective colleges were “less” selective.  Harvard’s acceptance rate in 1985 was 16%.  Stanford accepted 31% of their class in 1974.  Today, Harvard and Stanford both only accept about 5% of their applicants.  But what if your son or daughter are not planning to apply to these top schools?  What are their odds, and how can they increase their chances of admission success?

I spoke to a prospective college-bound client and his family the other day.  They questioned me as to my process but were pretty sure that college admissions really came down to the luck of the draw.   That sounded pretty defeating to me.  Certainly, the odds make one think that it is often just random, but after reading hundreds of essays and reviewing the non-essay application elements, I believe that the acceptance business is more than just dumb luck. 

Let’s work under the premise that most students applying to their schools have already used tools like Naviance to determine whether they are a good fit for a particular school and have the accompanying qualifying metrics (GPA and ACT/SAT Test scores).   The recent New York Times article, “What They Want,” gives an excellent, balanced analysis of what is going on, highlighting some different perspectives on what and who gets colleges’ attention.  Since all colleges are inherently different in their make-up & philosophies, when combined with the multitude of student differences, the permutations and combinations of admission scenarios are endless.   At the end of the day, students and their parents only care about their list of schools and how to get accepted.  

So, why do some students get accepted, while others don't?

  • Some colleges literally need to fill specific “seats” during an admission cycle.
    1. Maybe they need English or Philosophy majors
    2. Maybe certain extracurricular spots need to be filled (piccolo anyone?)
  • Overall Application must be strong and balanced
    1. Supplemental essays must be as strong as the main essay
    2. Extracurriculars are based on passions not resume building
  • Best use of Early Decision and Early Action for each student
  • Demonstrated Interest
    1. Not all schools view this the same way
    2. If the college visits your high school, did your son/daughter attend?
    3. Did the student visit the school and follow up?
    4. Do you know your college’s local representative?
  • Other factors
    1. Videos
    2. Live Audition
    3. Portfolio
    4. Resume


trend towards non-written distinctions-think "zeemee"

Some schools are looking for a little more, suggesting that students send in videos.  With today’s iphone technology and other resources, it is not that difficult for students to show their distinctiveness and creativity.  Sure, many students may test well, do their schoolwork, and succeed in their extracurriculars, but how many are confident enough in their abilities to express all that in a genuine, powerful expression that a college can watch?

To stand out, students need to find ways to differentiate themselves from their peers. This is particularly hard, especially when cottage industries have sprung up to literally hand students their community involvement experiences.  Using video tools like Zeemee can help students stand out by capturing a  collage that really depicts them as an individual, showing their energy and drive.  If their presentation is compelling (and maybe even fun) and they are comfortable with whom they are, then this will leave a lasting impression on the admissions representative and can help seal the deal.

For some, the college process will continue to appear brutal, hopeless, and unfair.  But there is a way to see the process as hopeful and reasonable, even with the number of students who are applying.  The answer lies in students not just showing how much they can do but how comfortable they are in communicating their true selves.

If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, zeemee, admission trends

What Successful Students do: Work Hard, Play Hard, Discover Hard

Posted by Neal Schwartz on June 27, 2017

Work Hard, Play Hard, Discover Hard; A framework for student (and Life) Success

#1 Question asked of recent college graduates:

Do you have a job?  That's the question a young adult, fresh out of school, will most frequently be asked.  

Years ago, the question might have been different, focusing more on where will they be working rather than if they will be working? 

Surprisingly, this question is the same one asked to students/families regardless of what college they attended.

$300,000 for college; More pressure to be "Perfect"


The reason there is so much pressure on students for their future has a lot to do with the fiscal investment.  In a recent article $300,000 For College?  Where’s That in the Bible?,  describes the difficult choice that many families are making:  choosing between retirement savings and their children's education.  It points out that with the high cost of college  it is nearly impossible for a high school student to save for all their college costs as was done decades ago.

With parents trying to get the best return for their investment, the emphasis is on striving for perfection in every aspect of their college prep.  Parents and students really want the same thing.   But, it's hard to be perfect, all the time.

So, student’s put pressure on themselves  and parents reinforce the need to succeed, adding even more pressure.   It reminds me of the old pressure cooker that my mom had, with a small valve to let some of the steam release out.   But, what if there is no release valve?

Everyone makes mistakes, but sometimes students believe that they are the only ones who fail.  That leads to pressure-packed schools with high stakes, both monetary and emotional.  Fortunately, many schools have instituted programs to deal with stress reduction.   “Learning to Fail” addresses the growing trend of coping programs that deal with student stress, depression and anxiety.






One historic adage: Work Hard; Play Hard

 What can students do to succeed but do it in a healthy manner?  It comes down to the old adage, Work Hard and Play Hard.   As a parent in an affluent community, I would venture to say that most understand the work hard portion of this balanced ideal.  Often, though, the Play hard aspect of the statement gets lost.  Playing hard in high school means participating in extracurriculars like theatre, athletics, music, robotics, etc. The key to playing hard well means doing something because they love it,  not because they think it will “look good” to  colleges.  A recent study , “Legacy, Leisure and the ‘Work Hard – Play Hard’ Hypothesis” , showed the benefit of working and playing hard.

learning that it is actually "OK" to Fail

But how about taking the adage a step further.  Why not: Work Hard, Play Hard and Discover Hard.   Colleges seek out the curious--those who will blaze new paths, make a difference and discover new things. 

Discovery is important.  By seeking new outlets, students can learn a lot about their passions.  Often, they will try new things and fail.  But that's OK, too.  Failure is a great way for students to learn resilience.  To know what you love and excel at, you have to also know your weaknesses. 

Work Hard, Play Hard, and Discover Hard is a good ethic to teach and nurture in our children and one that will resonate with colleges.  


If you have a high school student and want to get started on the right path, contact us at 914-273-2353, or visit us at: 


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Topics: college admissions, admission advice, college prep, college advice, learning to fail