The notoriously maddening college admissions race just got a little easier for one group of students — those on waiting lists.
Once dubbed the place where students' dreams go to die, waitlists are opening up as schools contend with the fallout of the coronavirus.
Faced with the prospect of bulging deficits, tuition shortfalls and uncertainty as to how many students will enroll this fall, colleges and universities are tapping into their bench of prospective students to ensure their classes, and ideally classrooms and dorms, are full.
"I've been doing this for 31 years and I've never seen anything like this," said Matthew DeGreeff, dean of college counseling at the Middlesex School, a private school in Concord, Mass. "It's been the most unprecedented year with waitlists."
Almost one-fifth of the school's graduating class of about 100 students received offers from waitlists, some more than one, he said.
At Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, more than 100 additional students were accepted from the waitlist this year compared to last year in anticipation that other students would defer or cancel their enrollment, according to a spokesman.
The change is further evidence of the unprecedented financial pressures schools are facing in the wake of the pandemic. Some universities are forecasting budget deficits given the prospect of shortfalls from tuition and room and board.
College counselors began to see signs of a change earlier this year. Waitlist offers that were traditionally made after May 1 and into the summer came as early as April, said Ginger Fay, a director at Applerouth Tutoring Services, who has worked for 25 years in the admissions field.
Schools have a lot to be worried about. They're grappling with how to resume classes on campus and accommodate students in an era of social distancing.
Administrators know the decisions they make likely will spur some students to take the academic year off, especially if colleges decide to hold classes entirely online.
Other considerations are coming into play, according to Fay. Parents, concerned about safety, might urge their high school senior to stay closer to home in case of another outbreak. Families hit with job losses could have no choice but to pick a less-expensive school.
Universities also are worried that they'll see the flood of international students slow.
In late April, Addie Anderson, an 18-year-old high school senior in Atlanta, was taking a walk when she got a call from Davidson College, a North Carolina liberal arts school that had wait-listed her a month earlier. She sensed good news.
"I don't think they would be calling me to say I didn't get in," said Anderson. In fact, they were offering her a spot in the incoming class. She will attend the school this fall.
Some of her classmates also got off waitlists at highly selective colleges, said Nancy Beane, a college counselor at the Westminster School for almost 30 years.
"We saw more activity on the waitlist this year than we usually see," Beane said.