Admissions season is coming to a close. The decisions have been made, and the letters have been sent. At this point, Bowdoin has accepted less than 19 percent of applicants: most have been rejected, and far, far too many have been put on the wait list. When a high school senior learns that she has been put on the wait list, she may assume that she has a chance of gaining acceptance to the College. In fact, there is almost no chance that she will be admitted.
This admissions cycle, the College placed 1,150 students on its wait list, even though it typically accepts a mere 10 to 60 students from the list. Once a tool used by colleges to allow flexibility in the admissions process, the wait list is now primarily a way to reject students gently. However, when the number of students on the wait list astronomically exceeds the number of students who will likely be admitted from it, the only yield is false hope.
Last year, former Dean of Admissions Bill Shain estimated that Bowdoin wait-listed more than 800 applicants for the Class of 2012. This year, that number has risen to 1,150 students—which is 46 more than were admitted. However, in the years 2003 to 2007, the College only accepted 10, 20, 56, 30, and 34 students from the waitlist, respectively.
According to Interim Dean of Admissions Scott Meiklejohn, there are multiple reasons that Bowdoin maintains a large wait list relative to the number of students it will ultimately accept. Sometimes, Meiklejohn told the Orient, there are cases where a student's performance is at a level "where a reject decision feels harsh," adding, "You have a pretty good idea you might not be able to take the person off the wait list, but their performance is at a level where a deny decision just feels wrong." Or, Meiklejohn continued, the College might consider wait-listing a student to help preserve a good relationship with a high school.
While many high school seniors are buying college sweatshirts, basking in excitement about their futures, these 1,150 students remain in limbo, unable to make concrete plans. For the vast majority of these students, being put on the wait list only prolongs the anxiety before rejection, further complicating an already difficult decision. Admissions notifications should inform applicants if the College has a spot for them to matriculate; they should not serve as a tool for diplomacy.
We fully recognize that the admissions process is a complex one. The competition between liberal arts colleges combined with the economic recession can only make it more so. However, the concerns of the College must be balanced with those of high school seniors. This will ensure an honest and timely notification of the applicants' standing.The editorial represents the majority view of The Bowdoin Orient's editorial board, which comprises Nick Day, Nat Herz, Will Jacob, Mary Helen Miller, and Cati Mitchell.