Report: Princeton Keeps Large Waitlist Of Students To Fill Demographic Gaps

We suspect this may happen at many schools around the country, but a new report by the Daily Princetonian is shedding some light on how schools fill out the target demographic requirements for an incoming class. Here’s the article:

When the University releases its admission decisions each spring, a group often larger than an entire class of students is left in limbo: the waitlist. This year, 1,451 applicants were put on the waitlist, and around 900 have decided to remain on the list. Last week, Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye said that the Office of Admission was planning to “probably take 100 kids off the list” this year.

The University placed 1,331 students on its waitlist last year, and 1,526 students on its waitlist in 2008.

“We keep a fairly conservative waitlist each year because of limited bed space,” Rapelye said. “We aim to be slightly under [capacity after accepted students’ decisions before going] to the waitlist.”

Some may wonder how a list nearing 1,500 students could be deemed conservative, considering that the University has never taken more than 148 students off the waitlist in a given year and in some years takes none.

Rapelye argued that the large group is needed because the admission officers turn to the waitlist to fill demographics that are missing from the incoming class. “We look at a class and see what we need,” Rapelye explained.

The admission office forms a committee to examine demographic deficiencies within the new class — academic, geographic and extracurricular — as students begin to matriculate and then turns to the waitlist to fill gaps, Rapelye said. “If we see that we need more electrical engineers or we’ve missed a few states or any instruments in the orchestra, we’ll go to the list. It’s really not that big given what we need to put together.”

Admission officers do not maintain a ranking of students placed on the waitlist, meaning that the evaluation of candidates is not finished when initial decisions are sent.

“The real question everyone should be asking is, ‘Why is [the list] so small?’” Rapelye said. “We could’ve had several thousand on the waitlist. We never have a quota or set number of students for our list.”

As they await the possibility of being admitted off the waitlist, some students have continued their efforts to influence admission officers. One student who has made a public effort to capture the admission office’s attention is Xiafei Zhang, a senior at University High School in Irvine, Calif.

Zhang, who is interested in studying economics and has accepted an offer of admission at the University of Chicago, said he is upbeat about his college process despite what he describes as “slim” chances of being admitted off Princeton’s waitlist.

“Slim [chances are] a lot better than none, especially when Princeton is the university [I’ve] always wanted to go to,” he said in an e-mail.

“I really wanted to join the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [because] I want to change the world some day (not trying to be cheesy), do big humanitarian things, and Princeton would really help me in my endeavors to do so,” Zhang said.

Zhang was so determined to sway the admission committee that he organized a music concert at his school called Princeton Lunchfest, in which he sang, played guitar and delivered a speech about Princeton behind numerous decorations that included a 13-foot banner that read “Xiafei: A True Princeton Tiger.”

“I never would have guessed that several hundreds of students, numerous teachers and even my principal would come support me at this event,” Zhang said.

Zhang said he hopes the event will tip admission scales in his favor.

“I was compelled to organize this event because I was unable to just let fate decide my final admission decision,” he said. “Since Princeton does not accept transfer students, this is my last chance to study at the university of my dreams, and I could not let this once in a lifetime opportunity pass without giving it my very best shot.”

By Andrew Sartorius Published: Friday, May 14th, 2010