Waitlist Versus Wait Pool—Which Term Makes Sense for Your School?

Waitlist Versus Wait Pool—Which Terminology Makes Sense For Your School?
Waitlist Versus Wait Pool—Which Terminology Makes Sense For Your School?


You have spent the spring months working to fill your school’s seats. There are new families you will invite to join your community and students who will not return to campus next year.

There are also applicants who you aren’t ready to decide about yet.

For these students, you will probably inform their families that, while their child has not yet been accepted to your school, you might extend an offer before the school year begins. Many schools say that the student is being added to a waitlist.

The issue with the term “waitlist” is that parents often associate a numerical order with this process—meaning, if my child is first on the waitlist, he or she will be the first one offered a spot when it opens. Or, if my child has been on the waitlist for a while, he or she is more likely to be offered a spot than a student who just applied and was added to the list.

This isn’t always the case. As the Admission or Enrollment Management Director, you know how important it is to fill your seats with mission-appropriate students. What if the first five students on the waitlist are fifth-grade girls, which will skew that grade level to have double the number of female students? Is that the best approach to serve your school’s mission?

Instead, we recommend using the term “wait pool.” A wait pool implies that there is no predefined order when it comes to when and if a student in the pool will be offered a seat for the upcoming school year. Acceptance will be based on competitive qualifications, the mission of the school, and the number of openings available.

You must be clear about the differences between a waitlist and a wait pool when applicant families first begin the process. This will set appropriate expectations. Also explain that if their child isn’t selected from the pool when a seat opens, it doesn’t mean that he or she won’t be chosen down the line.

Many schools choose to have several sets of wait pools, based on the time of application, mission-appropriateness of the student, legacy status, or other factors. You should communicate continually with parents throughout the process so they know where their child stands. This allows them to make other educational plans if they so choose.

Converting your school community to the concept of a wait pool will help you build a balanced, diverse group of mission-appropriate students. These students will bring a depth of interests and backgrounds to your school, while supporting your program and standards.


Mastering Enrollment Management

Additional ISM Resources:
The Source for Advancement Vol. 11 No. 4 Wait Pools: Not All About the First in Line
The Source for Advancement Vol. 12 No. 6 Sink or Swim: Making Your Wait Pool Tolerable

Additional ISM resources for members:
I&P Vol. 38 No. 4 Waiting Pools: Base Enrollment on Class Needs and Mission

Volume Number
Volume 17
Issue Number
Image of a teacher and students in class
Image of a teacher and students in class

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