What is a wait list?

Written by John Frahm, Senior Assistant Director
January 3, 2024

John Frahm portrait

Wait listedWe know you have plenty of questions and it is hard to keep waiting, but let’s breakdown what a wait list is, how universities utilize them, and what you can do now that you’ve been offered a place on WashU’s wait list.

First, what is a wait list? Every year, thousands of incredibly talented students apply to highly selective institutions. While we would love to offer admission to all of these more-than-qualified students, admissions offices are limited by the space available for an incoming class. With an overall acceptance rate around 11%, that means WashU only has space for about 1 in 9 of our applicants. The wait list is a tool that allows a college to reach its enrollment goal without going over.

Next, why do universities want to keep a wait list? To understand this, let’s first talk about the idea of “yield”. In the admissions world, yield refers to the percentage of admitted students who ultimately end up enrolling. We know that students will be receiving offers of admission to a number of different schools, at which point the decision on where to attend falls completely onto them. In this data-driven field, universities are able to analyze past data on yield to estimate the number of admitted students who will choose to attend their institution. This information is then used to guide admissions offices in the number of students they should offer admission to in order to hit the goal enrollment number.

This may seem like a pretty simple formula, right? In practice, it isn’t quite that easy. As we have all learned over the past two years, these things are unpredictable! It isn’t as simple as “one in, one out” either, with the wait list acting more like a waiting room and less like waiting in line. While you do not receive a number or rank on the wait list, students in this “waiting room” may be reviewed again depending on if – and where – space becomes available in our first-year class.

The wait list allows us to make additional offers of admission to ensure we are able to reach and maintain our enrollment goals. But it isn’t just general enrollment – much emphasis is placed on enrollment goals for specific academic areas, as well as other demographic indicators.

At this point you may be feeling like there is nothing left for you to do, so what can you do next? While much of the wait list process is uncertain and unpredictable, there are a few things that you should do.

  • First and foremost, if you’d like to accept your offer for a position on the wait list you should do so by April 15, 2024.
  • While there are no additional forms or documents you need to send to us, you are welcome to upload any updates through the Application Updates form. Both this and the Wait List Response form are located on your WashU Pathway.
  • Get excited about the schools who did offer you admission!
  • Be patient. It is unlikely that much wait list activity will occur before the May 1 deposit deadline, so it is important that you secure your space at another institution. While we are unsure if and when activity from the waitlist will occur, you will be notified about whether there will be space to offer you admission from the wait list no later than June 30, 2024.
  • Last, enjoy the rest of your senior year! Wherever you end up in the fall, know that you are on the right path on your academic journey. Make the most of the last few months of high school, and keep those memories as you enter into this next chapter.