Guiding Families Through the Wait-Pool Process

Guiding Families through The Wait-Pool Process Tips for Independent Secondary School Admission Teams In early March, tens of thousands of applicants to independent secondary schools will check their mailboxes or go online to see the long-anticipated decision notification from their dream school. Many youngsters will take a deep breath, open it….and find that they have been placed in the wait-pool. The disappointment will sink in, and the questions will arise as the candidates and/or their parents begin to make their calls or send their emails to the Admission Office: “What exactly does this mean?” “How many students are in the wait pool?” “What are my chances for acceptance now?” “Is the wait pool ranked in some way?” Here are a few tips on managing the message and easing applicant and parent stress during this difficult time.

  • Keep in mind before placing a candidate in the wait-pool that the compassionate decision may actually be a “Deny.” A wait-pool decision by nature is an invitation to an ongoing and potentially frustrating relationship.
  • Anticipate candidate and parent questions. Consider stating in the letter/notification that the wait-pool is not ranked and that Admission will not be able to predict the chances of ultimate acceptance.
  • You can reduce the volume of phone calls and emails from wait pool candidates or their parents by letting them know that Admission will contact wait-pool candidates on a case by case basis should spaces become available.  And you might consider adding that, in any case, wait-list movement is not likely until the point (early May?) that the school has a clear picture of its enrollment from acceptances.
  • Be gentle but firm in not allowing wait pool candidates or their parents to push you for a detailed explanation of why they were placed in the wait-pool or how you are shaping your school community with acceptances from that pool. You will compromise the confidential elements of your admission process, and you may create false hopes that another admission test, a second interview or parent conference, improved grades, or additional recommendations will be the formula for an ultimate acceptance.
  • The wait-pool is a critically important enrollment management tool, and it is truly where “art” meets “science” for the Admission team; our independent schools all have their particular needs, yield issues, and timelines, and each wait-pool candidate is unique. But by anticipating candidate and parent concerns and kindly but firmly communicating your process regarding the wait-pool, you will help ease some of their stress—and much of your own as well! 

Fred McGaughan is a 30-year independent school admission and marketing professional. He currently works for Gowan Group, an educational consulting firm that specializes in Strategic Enrollment Management. Learn more about Gowan Group at or email Fred at