Colleges using waitlists as coronavirus pandemic adds uncertainty

College admissions experts say schools are dipping into their waitlists more than ever this year to ensure they’ll have high student enrollment during the coronavirus pandemic. Allen Koh, the CEO of Cardinal Education, told Insider that students may drop out of their enrollments because of finances as the summer months come, and universities will turn to their waitlists. Experts believe that COVID-19 will impact college admissions for years to come. Insider also spoke to two students who have gotten off waitlists for their dream schools — and they don’t know what their freshman years will look like. Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

With the coronavirus pandemic adding more uncertainty to the college admissions process, more high school seniors are getting into their dream schools.Since mid-March, college campuses across the US have been closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and many are turning to online courses for the Fall 2020 semesters, too.College admissions experts say some students are reluctant to commit to schools this fall, leading colleges to dip into their waitlists. Experts say it could continue to happen as more students abandon their current undergraduate plans and enrollment drops.”People’s financial conditions are deteriorating by the day. I think there’s some hopefulness amongst people that the cost of college will go down, and so they’re going to try to wait it out,” Allen Koh, CEO of Cardinal Education, a Bay Area-based consulting company, told Insider. “There will still be families continuing to drop out because of finances, and because of that waitlists will be active through the summer.”

Colleges are facing millions of dollars in losses because of the pandemicColleges’ finances, too, are being impacted. The federal government’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — or CARES Act — allocated nearly $14 billion to help colleges and universities stay afloat during the pandemic, but many schools say they’re facing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses due to campus closures.

A graduate wearing a cap, gown and protective face mask is seen on the campus of Columbia University on May 21, 2020 in New York City.

Rob Kim/Getty Images

Casey Near, a counselor with CollegeWise, a college admissions counseling organization, told Insider that because of this, wealthier families will benefit most from schools dipping into their waitlists.”Kids coming off the waitlists are oftentimes kids who can pay,” Near told Insider. “It’s not to say it’s somehow easier to get into these schools, but it’s easier for a very small sliver of students.”For graduating senior Oliver Schaaf, who currently lives in Washington state with his family, waitlists played in his favor this year.

Schaaf applied to 13 schools during his senior year and was waitlisted at a number of them, including the University of Michigan. He was accepted into the University of Washington, and as he delayed putting down his deposit for enrollment, he was admitted into Michigan.”I am not a college admissions expert, but it seems a general trend is that more kids are staying closer to home and less international students are traveling to the United States to study,” Schaaf told Insider. “This in turn means, that schools, especially state schools which have in-state and out-of-state tuitions, would be looking to accept more out of state students to fill their yield. While this is all speculation, I do think that I was accepted so early off the waitlist at Michigan because of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Wikimedia Commons

Jack Besnoy, a graduating senior from New Jersey, had a similar experience. Besnoy applied to 20 colleges and was waitlisted at the University of California, Berkeley. He planned to go to Northeastern University — until Berkeley admitted him.”I knew once I was waitlisted at Berkeley that I had a pretty good shot of getting in, and then I ended up waiting a month. In early May they emailed me and told me I got in. I was very excited, I couldn’t believe it,” Besnoy told Insider. “I’m not sure if getting off the waitlist at Berkeley was coronavirus, but maybe it was.”

Neither Schaaf nor Besnoy know exactly what their freshman years will look like yet, but they’re trying to stay positive.”I am confident that Michigan will try their hardest to give us an amazing freshman experience, regardless of the COVID situation that may impact the traditional events,” Schaaf said.Koh and Near told Insider that COVID-19 will impact college admissions for years to come, and waitlists could grow even larger for those applying to enroll next year.”Now there’s just absolute chaos,” Koh said. “I think this coming admissions cycle you’re going to see the biggest waitlist of all time. It might be comical how big the waitlists are.”

People walk on the University of Kansas campus Sunday, April 26, 2020, in Lawrence, Kansas.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Koh believes that acceptance rates will skyrocket at schools like New York University and Georgetown University, which have high international enrollments that may be impacted by the pandemic. He said NYU, Georgetown, and others will admit more people just to ensure more students will enroll because there’s a chance they’d lose enrollment if they kept admission rates the same.

At elite schools that give out need-based scholarships, like Stanford University and Princeton University, schools will only accept the number of people they can afford to give scholarships to, Koh said.”I think people are just grappling with unknowns,” Near said of the current situation with colleges. “But I will say I’ve seen both selective public and private schools dipping into their waitlists than I’ve ever seen before. I think this is impacting every institution.”LoadingSomething is loading.

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