The Blessings of the Wait List

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Students smile at the University of Georgia during the 2015 Sophomore Shuffle.

The college counseling program at Walker has long been regarded as one of the core strengths of our school.  Neil Clark, Dean of College Counseling, has been guiding students and their families through a comprehensive and thoughtful process, focused on the ‘best fit’, for over twenty-three years.  Each year, Neil and his team lead the “Sophomore Shuffle,” where our tenth grade class visits a major university, the University of Georgia, and a small, private liberal arts college, like Mercer or Furman University.  The purpose of the visit is to help Walker students learn the key questions to ask as they get serious about the college search process.  As I chaperoned this year’s “Sophomore Shuffle,” I stopped to think about our current seniors and where they are in the process.

The end of March and beginning of April is a stressful time for high school seniors. Waiting for college admission notifications, by the mailbox or online, yields an anxiety for student and parent alike. This is followed by either an intense exhilaration (“I got in!”) or sense of rejection (“I didn’t want to go there anyway.”) In some instances, the result is neither joy nor sadness, but limbo, brought on by being placed on the “waitlist.” I had two experiences with the wait list, and now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realize what a blessing it was in each instance.

After completing seventh grade at my neighborhood elementary school, my parents had me apply to two private schools in the metro Atlanta area, along with a boarding school in New York. When notification day came, I was on the waitlist for both metro schools, and I ended up going to the boarding school. Though the first three months were quite an adjustment (I didn’t realize math equations could have letters, for example), attending that boarding school literally changed the trajectory of my life.  Interestingly, I would later teach at both the schools where I was initially wait-listed.

Cheering for Davidson

The second waitlist experience turned out differently. When I opened the letter from Davidson College and realized I was being waitlisted, I was quite disappointed because it was my first choice. We ended up sending a deposit to my second choice and even received a car sticker for that college. My dad told me not to affix the sticker just yet; sure enough, it wasn’t too long before I was accepted to Davidson. My experience there was outstanding, although I am quite sure I would have had a great experience at my second choice school.

In an age where instant gratification dominates much of our culture, some lessons are learned the old-fashioned way – through patience and perseverance.  None of us likes to be “denied” or “waitlisted;” but it has been my experience that a closed door often leads to other doors that are more rewarding than we expected.  While I am very proud of the Walker Class of 2015 and the impressive list of colleges to which they have been admitted, I also understand those who are experiencing the “waitlist” feeling. Finish strong and enjoy these final weeks of high school and make plans to attend another college to which you were accepted should you not be taken off the waitlist. It may just be a blessing!