The Waitlist: The Final Frontier

The Waitlist: The Final Frontier
Matthew DeGreef, Middlesex School

On July 17th, 2020, I was standing in the parking lot of Drake’s Island Beach in Wells, Maine when I received a phone call from a college admissions officer with an urgent request. He wanted to offer Sam, one of our recently graduated students, a spot in the Class of 2024 for the fall semester; however, he wanted to know before the offer was made if Sam would take it. Breathlessly, I called Sam, pulling him away from his summer job to ask him the big question:  do you want to go to your dream college that deferred you in early decision, waitlisted you in regular decision, and now wants you to join their incoming class?  And by the way, they are asking you to commit on the spot in the middle of the summer!  An eternal optimist, Sam had the full range of emotions from sheer joy to momentary confusion. He had done the hard work we asked him to do. He finished his senior year brilliantly, nailing terrific scores on his APs and was recognized by the faculty for his remarkable senior leadership during the crazy spring of 2020. He fell in love with the college he deposited with, and he had found roommates, started registering for classes, and was preparing with his parents to make his first tuition payment. He was in a very good place, yet he kept hope alive for his dream school, just in case something changed. In the spring of 2020, COVID changed everything, and the world of college admissions witnessed record numbers of waitlist acceptances as deans of admissions tried to figure out what the fall of 2020 would look like on their campuses. Within an hour on that hot July day, Sam accepted the offer from his dream school, feeling a bit guilty about saying no to the college he was intending to enroll in, but knowing that he could not turn down an opportunity that he had been considering for nearly two years.   

As I reflect back on Sam’s story I wonder who benefits from the waitlist and what are the costs to the students. There is a lot to unpack. In many ways, the waitlist is the most unregulated, least watched, and emotionally loaded space in the admissions cycle. For students, the offer to remain on the waitlist means, as Jim Carrey noted in Dumb and Dumber, that “there’s a chance” that a spot might open up in the incoming class. However, for this generation of students waiting even longer cuts against the grain of their online existence and need for immediate feedback. The waitlist requires another round of “letters of continued interest” to demonstrate their unquestioned fealty to the college along with finishing senior year strongly when their classmates are thinking about attending prom and walking across the stage at graduation. The waitlist requires patience, resilience, and the strength to buckle up and ride out the process to the bitter end, and this is a tall task for students as early May turns into late June with their final notification still pending. One of my old admissions colleagues used to remind younger members on the admissions committee that “until the last acceptance letter is in the U.S. Mail truck that there was always a chance.”  As an admissions officer and a college counselor, I have always believed that if there is a chance why not pursue it with eyes wide open, knowing we gave the process our collective best effort; however, I recognize that the elongation of the process is not always healthy for teenagers who need to move forward with their lives. I have found that more and more students are done with the college process by late April. Once they have attended revisit days, felt the love from the college they deposit with, and start to feel a sense of belonging with their college, they are ready to move forward with their lives. The hardy few try to keep hope alive.       

For enrollment professionals, the waitlist is a critical space to shape their class, protect their enrollment from summer melt, fill institutional needs that still need attention, meet budgetary goals in terms of tuition revenue, and admit students whom they really wanted to bring into the class but were unable to offer a spot in regular decision. This spring, the waitlist has been particularly important for many deans of admissions to “right size their student population” because their campuses were simply too full. In 2020-2021, many colleges had more upperclassmen taking leaves of absences than expected along with incoming students taking gap years. These students returned to campus in 2021-2022 in droves. During last year’s admissions cycle, many deans admitted a fuller incoming class because they were not certain how COVID would impact the yield of their incoming class, and then the combination of widespread access to vaccinations and the opening up of borders to international students created larger than expected incoming classes on many campuses. As we entered the cycle for the class of 2026, the common feedback was that the deans of admissions were under tremendous pressure to hit their enrollment targets, and they did this by taking a larger percentage of the incoming class in early decision and being tighter with admissions offers in regular decision, with an eye towards shaping the class off the waitlist in the late spring.

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To Educate is to Lead: Empowering Counselors as Leaders

To Educate is to Lead: Empowering Counselors as Leaders
Timothy L. Cross, The Lawrenceville School

Two decades ago with my Classics diploma still curled into a scroll, I assured myself there was no shame in not wanting to become a Latin teacher. Nothing of note had been written in Latin in a couple millennia plus no exciting discoveries in grammar or syntax were making headlines. In reflection, I realized that teaching Classics was too slow an expedition because I didn’t see the opportunities for growth for me. I still wanted to help students develop and mature, and I thought back to how my greatest moments of personal growth during high school transpired beyond the classroom. Now, partnering with students through the ever-mutating college process has provided me the opportunity to join their journeys while ensuring that every day brought progress–both for them and for me. With all that is going on in the world, I recently needed to remind myself why I counsel students: to walk stride-for-stride with them toward their goals.

The etymology of the term “education” comes from the Latin verb ēdūcō, ēdūxī meaning “to lead forth, draw out.” The definition depicts physical movement: an educator driving a learner from one place (of not knowing) to another (learnedness). Thus, to educate is to lead. Educators must recurrently generate and sustain movement toward a shared goal among colleagues or students; I believe this because complacency begets obsolescence while the unpredictability of the world—and the college process—is constantly evolving. The etymology of “education” shows me that all educators are, by definition, leaders.

Within this philosophy, students, counselors, and directors are all learners. Because counseling is a form of education, it is the responsibility of college counselors to aspire to and facilitate growth. However, generating and sustaining such movement isn’t simple, and the capacity to learn everything isn’t feasible. There’s a famous quote about wisdom that Plato attributes to Socrates that roughly translates to wisdom is “knowing that I know nothing.” Accordingly, I believe there are three keys to the movement counselors should aim to establish:

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Butterflies in Flight: Parenting and Metamorphosis in the College Process

Butterflies in Flight: Parenting and Metamorphosis in the College Process
Lauren Watson
Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The other day on our drive home, my nine-year-old son blurted out, “Mom! Did you know that if you try to help a butterfly come out of its chrysalis too soon, it won’t ever be able to fly? Did you know that, Mom?” He went on to explain that his teacher shared, while imploring a group of fourth-graders not to touch their classroom visitors, that the oil from human skin can ruin a butterfly’s ability to fly before even leaving the chrysalis.

When he returned to looking out the window, I couldn’t help but think about some of the well-meaning adults who I’ve encountered in my almost twenty-year run in college counseling. Parents who, with good intentions, end up spilling their own concerns, priorities, insecurities even, onto their child’s college process. And, not unlike the curious and well-meaning fourth-grader, in doing so, risked jeopardizing their child’s opportunity for flight.

After guiding hundreds of families through this experience, I am certain of the following truth: the college admission process can either bring a family and teenager closer together or, mishandled, can create troubling cracks in the foundational relationship families have carefully nurtured. Back in 2017, Ben Stiller starred in a mediocre yet fascinating film called Brad’s Status. Stiller plays a dad who is surprised when college visiting with his son unearths waves of self-doubt and causes him to question his own understanding of success.  Despite a lack of critical cinematic acclaim, the movie is worth watching for parents who seem self-aware enough to appreciate the message.

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Reflections on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Colloquium

Reflections on the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Colloquium
Darling Cerna (Princeton Day School), Juan Acosta (The Westminster Schools), and Lucas Frankel (Shady Side Academy)

ACCIS held its first Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Colloquium in February and in the weeks that followed, members of our DEI Committee reflected on their experiences during the program and, more importantly, on what they took from it. As these three ACCIS members indicate, using a DEI lens while being a college counselor requires ongoing personal and professional development in order to serve all students in a meaningful way. They share the emotions, takeaways, and experiences after attending the Colloquium.


“Breathing in, be aware of your body;
Breathing out, release all tension in your body

This is an act of love directed toward your body.”

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Feature It: Reframing the "Lost" College Visit

Feature It: Reframing the "Lost" College Visit

Kate Peltz
Director of College Counseling
Concord Academy

In a rusty, light grey station wagon, my father and I traversed New York and Pennsylvania. The year was 1995. The month was April. Our objective was to use school vacation week to help me build a college list. Certainly, my family’s thinking about college tours was informed by the environment in which I grew up: an affluent, white, suburb with college decals on SUV windows.

As we find ourselves in pandemic spring 2.0, college visiting is not possible for the majority of juniors just beginning their college journeys and seniors finalizing enrollment plans. When my mother was alive she would say, “If you can’t fix it, feature it.” Her sound advice reminds me to invert the problem of cancelled college tours. Instead of wringing hands over the lost college road trip, we can emphasize the opportunity facing institutions and students. Covid is inviting us to reinvent college discovery and student engagement.

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The Seat in Class Next to Me Will Always Stay Open

“The Seat in Class Next to Me Will Always Stay Open”
The Obstacles Facing Students of Color Who Attend a Predominantly White Institution

Lucas Frankel
College Counselor
Shady Side Academy

You are a college counselor having an introductory meeting with a student. This student has done everything asked of them in high school. Top of the class in GPA, praised for a stellar work ethic, active in multiple passion projects, and well-respected in the community. The student is now embarking on their college process and has asked you to help identify some academically viable colleges. What strategies are you going to use to support this student?

Now what if I told you that this is a student of color? Does that change any of the strategies you just considered?


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How An HBCU Education Stays With You Forever

How An HBCU Education Stays With You Forever

Produced by the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Blogging Subcommittee 

Darling Cerna
Assistant to College Counseling
Princeton Day School

Juan Acosta
Associate Director of College Counseling
The Westminster Schools



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Calling In, Not Calling Out: How College Counselors Can Navigate Conversations Around Equity

             

Calling In, Not Calling Out: How College Counselors Can Navigate Conversations Around Equity

Frank Cabrera
Associate Director of College Counseling
Horace Mann School

               “Will the college process negatively affect me?” 
                             “Pfft. I know why that (not so subtly referring to a student of color) person got in.”
                                           “It’s unfair that someone else is taking my spot.”         

                                                                                              -cis-white male from upper-class family



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College Counselors and their Magic Powers

College Counselors and their Magic Powers

Scottie Hill
Director of College Counseling
Annie Wright Schools

When I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I knew several people who made a good living as witches and tarot card readers. Oddly, we had similar gripes about our day jobs. People come to the local witch for the same reasons they always have, but instead of a thatched hut in the woods, now they head to a fourth floor walkup. They say things like: “I want (this person who doesn't know I exist) to love me. What can you do to make that happen? I’ll do anything.” 

College Counselors, think about that for a second. It’s not really any different than a sweet and determined student cornering you in the hall and saying, “I want to know what it takes to go to Harvard. I’ll do anything.” You know this happens. It an annual occurrence for me, as soon as I schedule the PSAT.

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Postcards from Kal: Supporting a Military Veteran in his College Process

Postcards from Kal: Supporting a Military Veteran in his College Process

Sam Bigelow
Director of College Counseling
Middlesex School

There were so many more tourists in St. Mark’s Square at 9am in the morning than the previous night. And the late June heat, my wife and I knew we were about thirty minutes ahead of Kal who was coming from his brother’s army base by train, about an hour south of Venice, so we sought the shade, found a spot, and waited. I had spoken with Kal plenty of times, emailed with him more, and yet, now that it was time to meet him (as chance would have it, we were both in Venice, Italy, of all places, at the same time), I was really nervous. 

A year prior, my father, who is a retired admissions director and college counselor, and I had signed on as Service2School Ambassadors, volunteer counselors for active military who were transitioning out of the service and hoping to enroll in college. So, thanks to the encouragement of my dad, and after a short vetting process, I was matched with Kal. He wrote me a very formal, gracious note introducing himself and sharing his Service2School profile. We set up a time to talk, he was from Austin, Texas, and I was at my mother-in-law’s in Maine. We got on the phone and the connection was scratchy. It took me no time to figure out that Kahlil was actually calling me from Kuwait, not from Austin, and he has just returned from a mission. He wanted to go to business school, didn’t know what schools beyond his in-state schools he could be competitive for, and more than anything really just needed someone to tell him he was good enough. From my perspective, he had strong testing, a great set of grades from high school and online college courses, and an incredible story to tell from his years as a Navy Medic Corpsman. He was a hero. In his eyes, Kal saw himself as a young immigrant who got in trouble in high school, wasn’t ready for college, and enlisted in the Navy to straighten himself out. One of the biggest issues I would face, I realized, was helping him see just how worthy and deserving he was. 


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The Counselor Bias: Recognizing Privilege and Biases in College Counseling

The Counselor Bias: Recognizing Privilege and Biases in College Counseling
A Diversity, Equity & Inclusion AdmitAll Post

Lucas Frankel
College Counselor
Shady Side Academy

Featuring Lawrence Alexander, Carney Sandoe & Associates Search Consultant and career educator

A blank canvas.  A chance to build something.  Opportunities to learn, not just about the student sitting across from you, but maybe about yourself, your profession, and life.  When meeting a counselee for the first time, the excitement fills the room – this student could do anything! Be anyone! Change the world!  It is this thrill that brings counselors back year after year to work with anxious and amazing teenagers.


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You are the Best You: Tips for Authentic Applications

You are the Best You: Tips for Authentic Applications

Lesley Klecan
Director of College Counseling
St. Mary's School


The best thing you can do to better your chances of admission is to be authentically yourself. 

Admissions officers say that the best applicants are those whose personality shines through. They read thousands of applications, so they can usually tell when someone is not being completely truthful. Melea Tejedas, Assistant Director for Portland Metro Recruitment for the University of Oregon, says, “When students are authentically themselves through the admissions process, it shows. Sometimes students will write an essay, or have a conversation with us, or withhold information about themselves, thinking that it is what we want to hear- or don’t want to hear. The truth is that when a student is honest and open about who they are, it shows. Honesty and authenticity allow us to truly connect with the student and their experiences, and to envision how they will fit on our campus. No individual is perfect, so a student attempting to portray that they are does not come across as genuine.”


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Success and Happiness in the College Search

Success and Happiness in the College Search

Beth Foulk
Associate Director of College Counseling
The Lawrenceville School

I had just wrapped up college applicant interviews at a community-based organization in Philadelphia, and a staff member and I were informally chatting about my experience. All of the students were impressive; one was participating in lab research at the University of Pennsylvania, another was learning about drinking water impurities in the Philadelphia area, and an aspiring engineer had built his own computer from scratch. It was a rather self-selecting pool of students; they had already researched my institution and each had a competitive academic profile for the admissions pool.

“It was an awesome night,” I shared. “I have to admit, one of the students really struck me as that perfect fit for my university. I can imagine him studying across colleges, probably majoring in engineering while minoring in business. He’ll love that he can participate in theater without majoring. He described wanting a campus that is highly involved and has a lot of school spirit, and we pride ourselves on that. He even described what he would do with the fully funded international internship we offer.” The staff member nodded her head, smiling. She had requested that he research my institution, already seeing how his values, goals, and personality lined up with our student body. Then she said, “He is currently stuck on just one institution, though, and I’m trying to get him to branch out. I think he would be successful at that particular college, but I worry that he won’t be happy.”

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College Visits 101: Maximizing Your Time On Each Campus

College Visits 101: Maximizing Your Time On Each Campus 

Bekka Goldberg
Associate Director of College Counseling
The Benjamin School 

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Calming The Storm: 4 Takeaways from Harvard's Turning The Tide II Report

Calming The Storm: 4 Takeaways from Harvard's Turning The Tide II report

Lesley Klecan
Director of College Guidance
St. Mary's School 

The newest report out of Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project targets families and high schools as central to increasing sanity in college admissions.

And rightly so.

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"!Pero qué escándalo!" A College Counselor's Perspective on the College Admissions Scandal

 

"!Pero qué escándalo!" A College Counselor's Perspective on the College Admissions Scandal
A Diversity, Equity & Inclusion AdmitAll Post

Ashley Armato

Senior Associate Director of College Counseling
Palmer Trinity School

As a part of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) committee, DE&I blog posts endeavor to share opportunities and perspectives that will allow us to better support our students and communities, while building on our own professional growth.

“What a scandal!” That’s all I heard from parents as the news of Operation Varsity Blues hit the airwaves. This was tabloid fodder at its strongest, wrapped in prestige, intelligentsia, and privilege. By now, a plethora of articles have been written exposing the ugly underbelly of college admissions, athletic recruitment, and standardized testing procedures.

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Unwrapping the Gift of Gratitude: How High School Seniors can Show Gratitude in the College Process

Unwrapping the Gift of Gratitude: How High School Seniors can Show Gratitude in the College Process

Kait Long
Assistant Director of College Guidance
Sewickley Academy

A quick Google search of the word “gratitude” will give you countless results ranging from blog posts to TED Talks to scientific articles. It’s a popular topic in many fields, including education, and the importance of expressing gratitude has been discussed at length. But there is one thing many of these excellent pieces neglect to mention — expressing gratitude can be hard. And sometimes, it can be really hard, especially for high school seniors in the midst of the college process. It can also be uncomfortable, awkward, and make you feel incredibly vulnerable. And that’s how you know you’re doing it right. True, genuine gratitude takes time to understand and develop, and it takes even more practice to learn how to express it.

I’ll be the first to admit that expressing gratitude was not a priority when I was a senior in high school, especially in February when the days felt long and I was anxiously awaiting college decisions. Looking back, I wish I had taken the time to thoughtfully acknowledge all of the wonderful people in my life, instead of handing out quick “thank yous” and hugs during the final nostalgic days of school. I’m sure it would have felt awkward opening up to others in this way, but in hindsight, I know they deserved more than I offered.

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Reflections on the People of Color Conference (PoCC)

Reflections on the People of Color Conference (PoCC)
A Diversity, Equity & Inclusion AdmitAll Post

As a part of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) committee, DE&I blog posts endeavor to share opportunities and perspectives that will allow us to better support our students and communities, while building on our own professional growth.

“The NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) is the flagship of the National Association of Independent Schools' commitment to equity and justice in teaching, learning, and organizational development. The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership and professional development and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools. PoCC equips educators at every level, from teachers to trustees, with knowledge, skills, and experiences to improve and enhance the interracial, interethnic, and intercultural climate in their schools, as well as the attending academic, social-emotional, and workplace performance outcomes for students and adults alike.” - NAIS People of Color Conference website

The 31st People of Color Conference was held in Nashville November 28 - December 1, 2018 alongside the 25th Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC). Two ACCIS members and our Executive Director share their different perspectives in reflections following the conference. Gabrielle Dorsey, Veda Robinson and Emmi Harward, provide insight into the impact the conference had (and continues to have) on them.

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The Radar: An Educator's Response to the Pittsburgh Tragedy


We are honored to share this blog entry and we realize it isn’t typical for an AdmitAll post. Lauren Lieberman’s words below are deeply personal, yet also universal. She reminds us that even as school leaders, we are also human and there are times when we have to care for our school communities AND let them care for us. And sometimes seeing the adults in their lives as vulnerable allows students to grow and learn and realize that we all struggle through tragedies together. 

The Radar: An Educator’s Response to the Pittsburgh Tragedy

Lauren Lieberman
Director of College Counseling
Shady Side Academy

When I received a text message from our school counselor this past Monday evening, I showed it to my husband and said, “I’m officially on the radar.”


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Exterminating College Process Termites

Exterminating College Process Termites

Kate Peltz
Director of College Counseling
Concord Academy

My husband and I were in the midst of a home improvement project. Everything was going smoothly until we took out a large shrub, could better view a post on our porch, and discovered evidence of insect damage.  More than what I could see, what worried me was the places my imagination took me.  I had visions of swarming termites devouring my porch from the inside out. We did not see evidence of any active critters, but how could we be sure we were not facing a major issue?  My mind raced to dark places, causing me to feel both vulnerable and filled with questions.  How big was the scope of our problem?  Is there such a thing as "normal" wear and tear?  Did every very old home have some insect damage? I longed for an expert; I wanted guarantees.  Then it hit me. 

For parents of juniors in high school, worry about the impending college process is the equivalent of termites.  Instead of a manageable project that might even be fun and informative for both student and parent, learning about, preparing for and applying to college feels threatening and destabilizing.  Here are some examples of what college process termites look like when activated: 

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