I was waitlisted at Lehigh but accepted at Penn. How? Why?

Posted: April 1, 2017

Ah, the eternal question: why did my admissions season go the way it did? There can be a number of reasons:
  1. Interest: You worked harder on your application to Penn than you did the others. I frequently see students spend less time on their “Why Us?” essays for schools they consider “safeties,” while putting much more thought and effort into the schools they really want to attend. This shows. A lackluster “Why Us?” is a little insulting, frankly. It says you didn’t care enough to really research the school, and, consequently, you are not likely to attend even if you are admitted. 
Other ways to show you don’t care: submitting right at the deadline (or even late), accidentally naming the wrong school in your essay (i.e. telling Lehigh you’ve always wanted to go to Penn). It used to be that not listing the school first on your FAFSA signaled lesser interest but the FAFSA reporting form was recently changed so it no longer sends your complete list of schools to each school. Thank goodness.
  1. Yield: It affects the school’s prestige to offer admission to students who don’t eventually attend. This measurement is called “yield,” and rankings use this number, in combination with the total number of applicants, to determine how highly sought after the school is. It is not in the school’s best interest to admit students they’re pretty sure won’t come.
  2. Financial aid: Penn is need blind, which means they evaluate your application without respect to whether you need financial aid. Lehigh is not. If you require a lot of financial aid to attend their school, it can affect your acceptance.
  3. Your “complete package.” If you are a well-rounded applicant, it’s possible that you just didn’t distinguish yourself well enough from the rest of the applicant pool for them to say “The Roller Skating King? Heck yes, we want him on our campus!”
Being waitlisted is an acknowledgment by the school that you are a good fit for their campus and are likely to be able to make an impact there. But you were on the bubble for some reason, so they’d like to hold you in reserve in case one of the better qualified (or wealthier) students decides to go elsewhere.

Whether you decide to stay on the waitlist is up to you. If Penn is your first choice, I wouldn’t bother with the others. Even for students who are waitlisted at their first choice, I counsel them to find the best fit college that accepted them and move on. Sitting on the waitlist just drags out the process even longer (often through the summer) and very few students get off the list anyway. Here are some ideas for what you can do if you decide to stay on the waitlist.

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