Ethics of Huge Waitlists

I don’t agree with the huge wait lists, but that is up to the schools and those asking to be on the waitlist.

However, I do think there should be a cut off June 1, July 1 but some point when the waitlist is released. If schools still have spots open after that, they can fill them. They know who was on the waitlist and can reach out to just those few students. No one waiting for a call but thrilled if it comes. Take a transfer student or someone who knows someone who knows someone.

I’m working with a guy on waitlists. It is hard for me to watch how he’s putting his life on hold hoping for that last minute call to a school a few spots higher ranked than the one he’ll go to if all the waitlists fall through. He’s in a position to accept at the last minute (finances not an issue) but really, the schools he’s accepted to are fine.


Another option is to reduce the waitlist size, past May 15 when they have a good idea of yield.

At UM, the percentage in 2020 wasn’t too far out of line with a few other recent years. For the five most recent years, the percentages admitted off the waitlist were <1%, 13%, 2%, 7%, and 11%. That seems like quite a bit of variation to me, and in three of the years the odds of getting off the list were better than the odds of getting into some top schools.

I assume that one thing going on with these waitlists is that, like with the rest of admissions it is not as simple as ranking the students in numerical order then accepting off the top of the list until the spots are filled.

Schools are likely still concerned with creating a well-rounded class and making sure there institutional needs are met (filling majors/schools, balancing genders, meeting financial and diversity goals, etc.) and they are probably trying to stock the waitlist to cover all contingencies. Whether that means they need to be as large as they are, I’m not sure, but I’m also not sure that the schools with large lists are all playing games or acting unethically.

Many schools reduce the WL over time so that the “extended list” for summer is shorter.

The person on hold waiting to climb a few rungs on the list is precisely the type I referred to above who needs to understand how this works. Someone shared a letter from a school (Brown?) to its WL students telling them that they should be getting excited about the school where they had deposited. Nobody should put their life on hold because they are on a WL.


Again, I disagree and that wasn’t even the intent of my OP. My OP was that Michigan keeps an enormous WL and offers relatively few acceptances. Not about WL variability.

The previous 5 years:

2016-2017 36/3970 = <1%
2015-2016 90/4,512 = 2%
2014-2015 91/4,457 = 2%
2013-2014 89/3,523 = 3%
2012-2013 74/4,010 = 2%

So, what I see is that 7 out of the last 10 years, WL acceptance was right around 2%-ish. And one year (2020, the highest %) was certainly an anomaly.

And considering the significant increases in the number of apps over the past 10 years, roughly doubling, I think it’s been pretty “steady eddy.” But that’s just my opinion.

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FWIW, I think Cornell’s WL is ridiculous, along with the guaranteed transfer options. For a school with almost a 60% yield, it’s totally unnecessary to offer that many WLs. That said, all the information about size and #s that are offered admission is available on the common data set. IMO, every student should do a deep dive of the CDS for every school on their list.

Alternatively, Michigan may have recognized that in recent years things have become much more volatile and is adjusting accordingly. And given that three of the last five years it has had to accept 7%, 11%, and 13%, there might be something to its approach.

Like @gardenstategal, I think the last few years have somewhat validated the practice, and I assume that the cautious approach will be around for a while.

One year (2020) you completely toss out as an anomaly, the other two could be explained, if I had the desire to research it, but I don’t.

And this cycle, 2022-2023, will HIGHLY likely be another 1-2% or less cycle. So far, only two admittances were reported from Reddit at the Nursing school. No one has been admitted yet, here on CC, from LSA or CoE. Being those are the two largest schools and the 5/1 deadline has passed, that’s unusual.

So, needing 5,000-10,000 more or less on a WL is not needed at all, when in WHOLE numbers, every year Michigan admits less than 500 from the WL.

Large waitlists exist because “anomalies” happen.

1,248 is the “anomaly” year of 2020. Such a large anomaly that Michigan had to offer 21,000 a place on the WL and 10,000 accepted? Sorry, disagree with that line of thinking.

I gotta move on. We’re arguing at this point and that’s not in the rules here.


Not entirely true - some schools post all of that data, some schools post some of that data and some schools post none of that data. Also, some schools have only posted data through 2020-21, and some have posted through 2021-22. I don’t know that pre 2020-21 data is going to be meaningful anymore and 2020-21 data is definitely not meaningful. Realistically though, the only data that is meaningful is the current year’s data, especially given this year, last year and the year before. So, I think it would be very nice and easy for schools to tell applicants for example - we accepted 1532 applicants, we waitlisted 2047 applicants, we rejected 53,785 applicants. Yale puts that info right on the portal in a link below your acceptance or rejection. It would be even nicer if after the deadline to accept the spot on the waitlist they updated it to say 879 accepted a spot on the waitlist. (these are made up numbers by the way, and do no represent any school). Given this information (transparency), applicants would know what they were really up against and would focus more on the school they committed too and less on the school that they have a miniscule chance with. But like i said many posts earlier, I don’t think it is unethical, I just think people would like a better picture, for a fuller understanding of the situation.