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About One-Third of Students Get Offers From College Wait Lists

April is the month of decisionmaking for high school seniors weighing their college options. It's difficult enough to compare the solid offers, but for many, there is the added layer of angst over being put on a wait list.

Nearly 45 percent of four-year institutions use wait lists, according to the 2012 State of College Admission Report, from the National Association of College Admission Counseling. That's up from 32 percent in 2002. The peak use of wait lists was in 2010 when NACAC reports 48 percent of colleges employed that strategy to manage enrollment.

Being put on a wait list tells a student the college would like to admit him or her—if there is room. The unknown factor for admissions officers is how many students will accept their offers. When a student turns down a school, it opens up a place on the B-list for the college to extend an invitation to someone placed on hold.

What are the chances of being plucked off a wait list?

About 55 percent of the students wait-listed for fall 2011 opted to remain on the list, and, on average, institutions accepted 31 percent of those students, according to the NACAC survey. However, it varies by school. In 2011, the most selective colleges and universities accepted 17 percent of students on the wait list, up from the 11 percent that the same group reported in 2010.

Wait-list institutions reported placing an average of 9 percent of all applicants on the wait list for the fall 2011 admission cycle.

Many counselors advise students to move on and embrace the schools that have given them solid offers. Even if students want to hold out hope of getting off a wait list, they need to commit to some college by May 1 to secure a spot. Then, if they get into their dream school from the wait list, they have to give up their deposit money for the original school. Calls for wait-list openings usually occur from mid-May through July.

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