The Waiting Game (What it is like to be on Swarthmore’s waitlist)

The Decision

I vividly remember the day that I opened my Swarthmore admission decision. I was so nervous to click “view decision” as Swarthmore was a top-choice school. When I eventually clicked the button, my stomach dropped-I was waitlisted. At first, I was so relived as it was not a rejected. After a little more thought, I became disappointed. I had worked so hard to attend Swarthmore, and I was so close. It felt like all the time I spent studying and days spent on my Swarthmore essays were a waste. It was difficult because my parents kept reassuring me that this was not a rejection, but I could not get out off my head that I was so close to being admitted.

A Decision to Make

The first decision I had to make was whether or not to remain on Swarthmore’s waiting list. This decision was easy, but I did not elect to stay on the waitlist of every school in which I was offered a spot. The disappointment I felt with my Swarthmore decision had to take the back burner while I decided what institution that I had been accepted to to attend. However, knowing that this not be the final choice I would have to make loomed over me. When I eventually made my choice on what school to commit to, it was anticlimactic. I did not want to announce to everyone that this is the school I was attending as I was still hopeful about Swarthmore. I could not participate in all the things that my friends were doing to celebrate their decisions. I tried to hide my shirt on national decision day(which was virtual so it was not too difficult). I did not post an announcement on my class’s Instagram page. I felt very left out. I started to feel shame that I did not really know where I was going. More and more people started asking which caused me even more stress. There was a lot of pressure at my high school to attend high-ranking colleges, so many people were very nosy about a decision that I wanted to keep quiet. This caused me to be even more secretive only reveling to my closest friends the situation. The ability to keep a secret is not a strong suit of mine, and it made navigating social situations difficult in a time where you are just supposed to enjoy high school.

The Stats

In the meantime, I was working very hard to get into Swarthmore. I had read all the admissions stats and I knew there was a slight chance I would get in because they had admitted students of the waitlist in years prior. The common data set indicated that 40 students the year prior had been admitted from the waitlist. For me, 40 was a sizable number which gave me hope. In reality, I had no idea how may students accepted a place on the waitlist. A lot of unreliable sources online like College Confidential and Reddit said that LAC historically do not admit many students from the waitlist, often less than 10%. Every day my attitude flip flopped from optimistic to pessimistic. Additionally, there was so much unknown because of COVID that there was even more uncertainty of a chance of admission. A lot of adults told me that I had an increased chance of admission since many students were taking a gap year or could not travel for school. This added to the pressure that I needed to get in.

Vying for Admission

I tried many different methods to gain admission. First off, I wrote a letter of continued interest in which I wrote an extended version of my Why Swarthmore essay. It was a great opportunity to include all the details I could not fit in 250 words. I also updated them with my third quarter grades. I still did not get an offer of admission. After those steps, I had to get more creative. I knew someone who used to work as the Provost of Swarthmore. I reached out to her to see if she could write a letter to Swarthmore. I had an interview with her and it went really well. She said I was the perfect fit for Swarthmore. However, even after her letter, I still did not get in. Additionally, I did not know what other steps to take, so I talked to my school counselor. He recommended I send additional writing samples and recommendations to Swarthmore. I sent an essay I wrote for the Coalition application (I submitted the Common App to Swarthmore) and a creative piece I wrote for AP Lang. I also sent a recommendation from my social studies teacher and Model UN advisor which I did not submit with my application. I still did not get in. I waited a long time after those updates. It was now June, and I updated Swarthmore on what awards and scholarships I received at my senior award ceremony. I still heard nothing. My last step was calling my admissions officer. This was advice I got from someone from my high school’s mom, and I thought to myself, “hey that can’t hurt”. I talked to my admissions officer on the phone, and she asked me a lot of questions. The number one thing that I stressed was that Swarthmore was my number one choice, and I would enroll if I was admitted. I think this finally did the trick, and I got in!

Another Decision

However, there was still stress in deciding if I should attend Swarthmore. Although I had stressed to my admissions counselor that it was my number one choice, I had to make sure. I first had to compare the two colleges’ financial aid decisions. I also had grown attached to the college that I committed to back in May. I had a friend attending that school, and I felt that I would let her down if I changed my mind. Also, most of my peers from high school did not even know that attending Swarthmore was an option for me. It was even published in my town’s newspaper that I was attending the school I committed to before Swarthmore. (Fun fact: many people I talk to from my town still get confused about where I go because they all read the article). There was a sense that it would be easier to remain at this institution. I also felt that I was behind other admitted Swarthmore students who had already submitted their advising form and housing questionnaires. I eventually decided that the reasons I liked Swarthmore in the first place outweighed the other factors, so I enrolled at Swarthmore.

Before Coming to Swarthmore

I was very excited to come to campus once I enrolled. I was able to finally post on Instagram and stock up on college sweatshirts. I went through the pre-college process like every other student. I met with my advisor, shopped for my dorm, and stocked up on snacks from home. After all the stress of my college decision, I tried to focus on enjoying my last moments with my family and friends from home.

My Time At Swarthmore

Many other students at Swarthmore got to know each other on social media stating right after the early decision decisions. I felt immediately left out. I felt like I needed to work overtime to meet people when I arrived at Swarthmore. Overall, my experience at Swarthmore was positive. Particularly academically, I was glad I choose Swarthmore. However, sometimes the school work was really hard. During these times, it was easy to feel imposter syndrome or that I did not really belong at Swarthmore. I sometimes felt that because I was admitted from the waitlist that I was not as smart or as talented as other students. Another feeling that was hard to overcome was that maybe admissions was right to place me on the waitlist, and that I should never have gotten in. A lot of times you hear that students are placed on the waitlist because the admissions officers are not sure if the school is the right fit for the student. When it was difficult to fit in with other students, I thought that maybe I was not a good fit at Swarthmore. It was easy to have a grass-is-always-greener approach and think that I would be happier at another school I had gotten into. However, in times of fun or success at Swarthmore, I felt confident that it was the right place for me. The weirdest thing about these waitlist struggles is I am the only one who knows about them unless I share them. It is not like I have a neon shirt that says “I was waitlisted” that I need to walk around in. For most of my peers, I am like any other student. This can often be very reassuring that despite this struggle, we are all now in the same place struggling in the same classes and eating in the same dining hall.

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