You probably thought the admissions cycle was over for the year with the release of decisions way back in March. But students have until May 1 to deposit meaning that high school seniors languishing on the waitlist still don’t know whether they will be a part of the class of 2018. Bwog staff writer Britt Fossum spoke to some of the lucky few Columbia students who made it out of waitlist purgatory.
Last year’s graduating class of 2013 had zero students accepted off the waitlist. Though most years are not quite as bleak for the waitlisted prospective student, admission is still highly unlikely. Unlikely but not impossible: when the topic was brought up at a Bwog meeting, many people in the room were able to name friend(s) who chose to attend after being waitlisted. Columbia admissions does not release statistics on waitlist admission because the numbers vary so widely from year to year, but much like the rest of college admissions the final decision is pretty much arbitrary.
Students who choose to keep their spot on the waitlist are a self-selecting group. A student who is waitlisted at Columbia may be just as qualified and desired by the school as the students who were accepted, but a waitlisted student must also choose whether or not to follow up on their waitlist status with additional information. Additionally, taking an offered spot off the waitlist is another kind of sacrifice—at that point college seniors have necessarily committed to a school already. Hearing from students who were accepted off the waitlist demonstrated just how true the maxim of arbitrary admissions decisions is. Aside from an uncanny ability to beat the odds, none of the students I spoke to really understood how they were chosen ahead of the hundreds of other students in waitlist purgatory. In the spirit of rehashing old memories of college admissions, here are the testimonials of five ex-waitlisted students. To the hopeful class of 2018, may the odds be ever in your favor (and may a lot of kids go to Harvard instead).
Alex Kalicki: SEAS ’16, Computer Science
When did you hear back from Columbia about getting off the waitlist (date) and what school were you planning to attend? May 13, 2012. Tufts University.
What kind of supplementary information did you send in? I wrote a letter with updates on what I’d been up to since my application and sent it off to both the admissions office and the alumni rep I interviewed with back home. I think the important thing to realize when sending supplementary info is that admissions wouldn’t have put you on the waitlist if they didn’t believe you were a qualified candidate. It’s your job to convince them that you’re still excited about the school and demonstrate you’re still a good fit. So talk about how you’re still working hard even though it’s your last semester, any activities you’ve gotten involved in since the last time you reached out, and your continued enthusiasm for the school and desire to go there. If Columbia’s your #1 and you’d definitely attend on being accepted, say so! But the most important thing is to reach out and let them know you’re still interested.
Would you say going to Columbia instead of that school was an easy decision or a difficult decision? How did you feel about the situation? Are you glad you made the choice you did? Definitely a difficult decision. Columbia was one of my top choices originally, but when I was waitlisted I made a huge effort to get excited about my other options. I went to admitted students events and days on campus activities at several other schools, talked to professors in their CS departments, and explored the area to make sure I could see myself living there. Some of my really good friends were going to Tufts so I became very excited about joining them there in the fall.Hearing back from Columbia initially left me with very mixed feelings. I’d just been accepted to an awesome school that had topped my list for the last year, but after throwing my all over the last month into getting psyched for my next chapter at Tufts it almost felt like I was back at square one. I visited both schools again and talked to as many current students as possible, but at the end of the day New York felt more like home and I’m happy with the choice I made.
Eliza Feinberg: CC ’17, Physics (probably)
When did you hear back from Columbia about getting off the waitlist (date) and what school were you planning to go to? May 14th, 2013. Oberlin.
What kind of supplementary information did you send in? I sent in an over-the-top love letter to Columbia.
Would you say going to Columbia instead of that school was an easy decision or a difficult decision? How did you feel about the situation? Are you glad you made the choice you did? When I got the acceptance email I burst into tears, and immediately accepted it.
Jennifer Yu: CC ’17, Undecided
When did you hear back from Columbia about getting off the waitlist (date) and what school were you planning to go to? 5/15/13. NYU -> Cornell University (was admitted off the waitlist literally two days prior to being accepted off of Columbia waitlist)
What kind of supplementary information did you send in? I sent in the waitlist interest statement Columbia requested the day after I got my waitlist decision. After that, I went to my guidance counselor and begged him to do whatever he could to get me off the waitlist–he sent an email to our regional admissions officer and my third quarter grades. After May 1st, the deadline for regular decision admission confirmations, I sent another continued interest waitlist letter with updates on what I had accomplished in the spring to my regional admissions officer. Essentially, I tried to get my name out there as much as I could through any and all possible ways.
Would you say going to Columbia instead of that school was an easy decision or a difficult decision? How did you feel about the situation? Are you glad you made the choice you did? Going to Columbia was a very easy decision for me. I literally screamed when I saw the acceptance letter. I hadn’t applied early, and I was basically beating myself up over it when regular decision came around. When I got the waitlist decision, I was pretty crestfallen and began to harangue everyone I knew about it and tried to recruit as much help and use as many resources as possible. With all of the effort I put in to get off the waitlist for Columbia, there’s absolutely no reason why I wouldn’t have accepted the admittance.The waitlist process is really upsetting and frustrating–I’ve compared it to purgatory–but honestly it’s really an honor and very humbling in a way. I come from a public high school where Ivy League university acceptances are not a rarity but rather more of a norm. In knowing that I wasn’t the best person in my school, not a valedictorian or salutatorian or a science research buff or anything like that, I was consistently anxious about university acceptances. The waitlist gave me a second chance! It was a second chance to refine all the BS I had fluffed up in my original application and realize that I had to get down to earth and talk to these admissions officers like real people. I think the waitlist is a nice reminder that the university acceptance processes are really problematic–there are simply too many really good candidates who essentially all look the same on paper. There’s no one thing that gets people admitted or rejected, but the holistic process that applications entail makes me think that the biggest thing that universities are looking for is diversity. Unfortunately, while we joke around about “how the hell did I get into Columbia?” the question is honestly very valid. I believe Columbia saw a lack or a gap in its class size, realized it needed to fill it, and then plucked the right person off the waitlist. It’s luck that there was a gap in the first place, and even more luck that the applicant characterized him/herself in the right way to fill that gap. While the waitlist can seem demeaning, I’m eternally grateful that the waitlist exists and allowed me the incredible opportunity to basically apply to Columbia all over again with one last shot. The waitlist itself isn’t really the problem but rather the product of the huge mess that is college applications today, and that’s a whole other issue in and of itself. Just to emphasize to current waitlist people: People get off the waitlist!!! It totally happens!!! Try your best to enhance your passions and present your initiative to Columbia, but other than that (and it kills me to say this because it’s such a stupid motivator) good luck. Stay positive and active– “may the odds be ever in your favor” and all that!
Alvaro Baggio Rossi: CC ’17, Econ-Philosophy
When did you hear back from Columbia about getting off the waitlist (date) and what school were you planning to go to? May 29. Duke or Georgetown, decided Duke.
What kind of supplementary information did you send in? I sent in a normal supplementary essay, talking about how I could benefit from Columbia and what I had to offer. Then I came to New York, talked to the admissions officer for my region and wrote to him. I also contacted my interviewer, who really liked me and helped me by sending in an extra good word for the admissions office. That was it.
Would you say going to Columbia instead of that school was an easy decision or a difficult decision? How did you feel about the situation? Are you glad you made the choice you did? Easy, Columbia was my dream school.
Levi Oliver: SEAS ’17, Computer Engineering
When did you hear back from Columbia about getting off the waitlist (date) and what school were you planning to go to? May 21, 2013! Cornell. (When I heard I got in at Columbia, I just thought “Oh f*ck, now I have to make another decision.)
What kind of supplementary information did you send in? When Columbia informed me that I was on the waitlist, they recommended that I write something to them about my intent and desire to attend Columbia. I put that letter off until the last minute so I had more time to decide, but I submitted that letter at 11:52 PM the day it was due. I have a feeling that was huge in my admissions, but I can’t be sure.
Would you say going to Columbia instead of that school was an easy decision or a difficult decision? How did you feel about the situation? Are you glad you made the choice you did? Oh it was an agonizing decision. (See answer to question 2.) I was accepted into some great engineering schools and was offered a full ride and an honors program at another college. It was a really rough decision. I never had that feeling of “Oh this is the place for me!” It was hard for me. On the one hand, I could have gone to another school and gotten what statistics say are a better education. On the other hand, I could have gone to another school for not-so-great of an education for a full ride and specialized, super-comfy housing. It was hard. I chose the middle ground, seeing as Columbia gave better financial aid and a great education.Am I glad that I made this choice? Hmm…. I think I would be happy with whatever I did. I think I’m a pretty chill and happy guy. But so far, this seems to have been a good choice. I’ll never know if it was the best, but I’m happy here. One thing I would like to address is the apparent stigma attached with the waitlist. I don’t hide the fact that I got in off of the waitlist, but some people look at me like I’m inferior when I mention it. Snobs. I’ve got a great GPA here.