07 May 2010

"The Dirty College Admissions Trick" cuts both ways

The Daily Beast | Marc Zawel | The Dirty College Admissions Trick

Along with the ultra-low admit rates came swelling waitlists. Cornell wait-listed 2,563 students. Amherst: 1,098—about the same number of applicants it admitted. At Duke, the number was north of 3,000. And the University of California and the California State University systems put applicants on waiting lists for the first time ever.
This article is about how slimy it is that some kids tell more than one college that they're attending because they can't make up their minds by the response deadline. I agree this is a completely dishonest thing to do, but the passage above is what caught my eye.

I find these overly-long wait lists unethical as well.  Putting people on a wait list when there's essentially no chance of them ever being accepted is completely rude thing to do.  I remember when I applied to Stanford they said (off the record of course) that they put two decimal orders of magnitude more people on the wait list than they let in from the wait list every year.  They were also surprised several months later when I turned down a position on their wait list.

Cornell has a freshman class of 3500, and they wait listed 2500, or 71%.
Amherst: 425 incoming freshmen, wait listed 1098, or 258%.
Duke: 1600 matriculants, wait list of 3000, for 188%.

There's no way you can explain a wait-list as larger than the incoming class by people double dipping their acceptances.  A wait list of that length is ridiculously long even if every single person originally admitted turned the school down.

I've always wondered what's behind this.  I can only come up with two theories, neither of which I'm thrilled with.  (1) It makes the meetings of the admissions staff more friendly when they can't decide whether to admit or reject someone.  If they decide to throw the marginal kid in the wait list pile none of the coworkers feel like their opinion was denied outright.  (2) The applicant doesn't feel embittered about your school if they thought they deserved to get in.  Maybe they'll still like the college enough to encourage their younger siblings or cousins or friends or children to apply when they wouldn't have if they had been rejected honestly.

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