Why Are So Many Students Being Waitlisted At UC Schools

Andy Wang
Andy Wang

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In recent years, it seems that many qualified students are being waitlisted at UC schools. A particularly strange aspect of this phenomenon is that the schools that are waitlisting students aren’t the expected ones, such as UC Berkeley and UCLA; rather, other schools like UC Davis and UC San Diego. In this blog, I will break down the possibilities of why this might be happening. I write drawing both from my own personal experience going through admissions two years ago, as well as other evidence.

How it Began

Two admission cycles ago I was a high school student eagerly awaiting college decisions to come out. Much like most of the students that are probably reading this blog, I was mainly looking at the UC’s. At this point, I had earned admission into UCSB and UCI but hadn’t heard back from UCSD, UCLA, or UC Berkeley. What intrigued me about UCSD was that almost everyone had already heard back besides me. I didn’t think much about it; but coincidentally, UCSD decided to notify, less than a hour after I was admitted into UCLA, that I was on the waitlist.

A Shared Experience?

This wasn’t just the case with me either; others who hadn’t heard back from UCSD and got into UCLA would also be waitlisted by UCSD. I believe that this stems from the notion that most students would prefer UCLA over UCSD. Essentially, as soon as UCLA released its admissions, UCSD would release conditional decisions.

The History

This is not the first time schools worked together in the past to discuss their applicants. Two decades ago, the Ivy League schools had met together each year. At these meetings, they discuss how to scale financial aid packages, so that students would have to pay the maximum amount that they thought the families could afford. While this isn’t exactly along the same lines as admission decision for the UC schools, it shows a point that schools do in fact talk to one another throughout the admission process.

If a school hypothetically knows an applicant got into another school that he or she would rather go to, the school’s admissions office wouldn’t want to just give out an admission if it knew that the applicant would contribute the all-important statistic of percent of students who attend from the admitted list. This statistic has notoriously been known to be used as a benchmark in telling the prestige or competitiveness of a school. The lower the percent is, the less “strong” the school looks on paper.

What’s Next?

Given this logic, UC’s would be more inclined to waitlist students. The next step would have them submit a supplementary app to be placed on the waitlist. This supplementary app indicates to the school that the applicant is still seriously considering the school, and hasn’t committed elsewhere. This is something students need to consider when looking at waitlists; and consider ways to show “demonstrated interest” that could potentially get a student off the waitlist in to the school.

For more information about how students are waitlisted at UC schools, visit Empowerly.

Questions? Let us know!