Economy prompts Vanderbilt to expand admission waiting list

Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 1:46pm

Like other top-tier colleges across the nation, Vanderbilt University has put more freshman applicants than usual on its waiting list, forcing students to sit tight to learn their fate.

Though Vanderbilt policy prohibits releasing hard figures before its May 1 decision deadline, the school’s waiting list is 20 percent larger than the previous year, according to Doug Christiansen, Vanderbilt’s dean of admissions.

The jump is the byproduct of an unstable economy, combined with traditional competition among elite schools. With Vanderbilt applicants also applying to schools such as Princeton, Duke and Emory universities, Christiansen said there’s always “a degree of musical chairs” among the schools.

“Once you get into that kind of really talented student, they have so many options, where does that all fall out?” Christiansen said of the lengthier-than-usual wait list. “Compounding that is then looking at what the economy looks like.”

A recent story in The New York Times cited the “uncertain economy” as the greatest factor fueling longer waiting lists at prestigious schools such as Duke, University of Chicago, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among others. Not knowing how many applicants will actually be able to dish out the big bucks to enroll during economically trying times, these schools have opted to create larger pools of potential students.

The wait list at Vanderbilt appears to be no different

“Even though we have a wonderful new expanded aid program ... someone may have a demonstrated need of $30,000, which we would pay for, but they still have to come up with $20,000,” Christiansen said. “That’s just an example, but you start looking at all of that.”

That economic reality has only exacerbated the ripple effect, or “musical chairs,” among schools historically found atop Princeton Review’s list of best colleges and universities.

“The general consensus is everybody went up (with their wait lists) because there’s going to be a higher degree of musical chairs that will start on the 2nd or 3rd (of May),” Christiansen said. “So if Harvard takes someone from its wait list, that may take someone from us.”

In all, Vanderbilt expects to welcome 1,600 freshman students at its four separate schools. Administrators are eyeing a 17.5 acceptance rate this year, compared to 21 percent acceptance rate last year.

Of all students admitted at Vanderbilt, 41 percent opt to attend the school, according to Christiansen. Of students on Vanderbilt’s waiting list offered a slot in its freshman class, 50 percent agree to attend.