By TAMAR LEWIN
Published: May 9, 2008
In what may be a happy surprise for thousands of high school seniors, Harvard plans to offer admission to 150 to 175 students on its waiting list, and Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania each expect to take 90, creating ripples that will send other highly selective colleges deeper into their waiting lists as well.
“This year has been less predictable than any recent year,” said Eric J. Kaplan, interim dean of admissions at Penn, adding that when one college in the top tier goes deep into its wait list, others are affected. “We all need to fill our classes and replace students who have been taken off wait lists at other institutions. The wait-list activity could extend for a significant time.”
Although colleges turn to wait lists to fill out their classes, it is unusual for the most selective to go so deep, college officials say.
For high-school students graduating in an unusually large class and for colleges trying to shape a freshman class, this has been an unusually challenging year, with the changes in early-admissions programs and the broad expansion of financial aid at many elite universities.
Right up until the May 1 deadline for students to respond to admissions offers, colleges have been unsure what to expect.
“Our class is coming in exactly the way we wanted it to, fitting into the plan we had to get to a class of 1,240,” said Janet Rapelye, dean of admission at Princeton, which, like Harvard and the University of Virginia, eliminated early admissions this year.
Ms. Rapelye said that with such a big change in policy, it was difficult to predict results, so “we deliberately aimed to have a slightly smaller group.”
Harvard would not confirm its plans for its wait list. In an e-mail message sent on Thursday to colleagues at dozens of other institutions and passed on to The New York Times, William Fitzsimmons, the Harvard College dean of admissions, said, “Harvard will admit somewhere in the range of 150 to 175 from the waiting list, possibly more depending on late May 1 returns and other waiting list activity.”
AHarvard spokesman said the college had accepted fewer students this year to avoid overcrowding the freshman class.
The Yale dean of admissions, Jeffrey Brenzel, said there would be about 45 wait-list offers this week and probably another round later this month.
Even colleges that had more than filled their freshman classes were wondering how many students would melt away if admitted off waiting lists elsewhere.
“We’re over target right now, so we’re in good shape,” said Rick Shaw, the Stanford dean of admissions. “But I’m keeping a small group on the wait list, because I think there’ll be some impact of wait-list activity at other schools.”
At Dartmouth, Maria Laskaris, the dean of admissions, said although Dartmouth had more than enough accepted students committing, she was “in a holding pattern, because it depends on what other schools do.”
“If they go deep into their wait lists,” Ms. Laskaris said, “there’s a domino effect that has an impact on all of us.”
Amherst College offered admission to 15 students on the wait list Wednesday and expected to make offers to about 10 more. Swarthmore and Pomona planned to take 15 to 20 students from the wait list, admissions officials said.
At Bowdoin College, William Shain said he was slightly over the 480-student target, “but not so much that going to the waiting list is out of the question, if we lost a lot to other schools.”
Some high school guidance counselors said the wait-list activity this year seemed to have occurred especially quickly.
“In the last few years, more and more kids have been getting put on wait lists,” said Margaret Loonam, assistant principal at Ridgewood High School in New Jersey. “Now we’re seeing more get off the wait lists and earlier. It used to be a formal letter.
“But this year, it’s still early May and we’ve had a kid who got a call at home at night saying, ‘You’re off the wait list, do you want to come?’ We’ve already had kids get off waitlists at N.Y.U., B.U., Fairfield and Quinnipiac.”
At the University of Virginia, which also ended early admissions this year, John Blackburn, the dean of admission, said because he had received 3,200 deposits for a target of 3,170 freshman, he might not go to the wait list, unless an unusual number of students defect to other colleges.
Mr. Blackburn said he considered the move from early admissions a success because it seemed that, as hoped, it had brought in more low-income students.
Harvard, which ended early admissions this year and greatly expanded its financial aid to middle-income families, sent out offers of admissions to 1,948 students March 31, for a freshman class that is to number 1,650. Harvard would not say how many students had accepted the admissions offers.