Whatever it takes: applicants’ zany attempts to get off the waitlist

Once we are admitted to college, the college application process becomes just another ghost of stressors past. It can be easy to forget just how high emotions run during that fateful time, because as admitted students, we are no longer channeling our emotional energies into getting accepted to college, but towards staying there. I caught up with the director of admissions himself, Dick Nesbitt, to find out what life is like on the other side of such a high-stakes process.

Getting accepted to college is a competitive process, of course. Williams, as a highly exclusive institution, must turn away a large portion of applicants every year. Mostly, these rejected applicants are disappointed but quickly move on to other opportunities. “After all, the vast majority of applicants who apply to Williams are very well-qualified. They would make great students and great members of the community. There aren’t a lot of ‘Hail Marys’ in the pool,” Nesbitt said. However, some Williams hopefuls do not take the rejection news so gracefully. Some parents are certain that a rejection was unjust or has ruined their child’s chances at a future. “I’ve had screaming parents call me up personally to curse at me, [when they are] beyond disappointed that we couldn’t admit their kid. However, [being cursed out by phone] happens only seldomly,” Nesbitt said.

The real emotions kick in when rejection isn’t certain. There are some students who aren’t outright rejected but put into the college-decision equivalent of limbo: the waitlist. On the waitlist, there’s still hope for an acceptance letter. And hope makes people do crazy things. “When kids are on the waitlist, they want to get our attention. One year, we had this sweet girl who sent us a thousand purple and gold paper cranes. She obviously really wanted to come here … and had a lot of time on her hands,” Nesbitt said. Unfortunately, the College couldn’t admit this devoted origami artist. “We didn’t want the cranes to go to waste though,” Nesbitt said. “We would have felt bad.” They now adorn the entire ceiling of one of the offices in the admissions building.

Some offerings from kids on the waitlist are met with less affection, however. “There was this other kid who was waitlisted who sent us a box of very large – probably four inches in diameter – cookies. They were all frosted with an image of his own face,” Nesbitt said, wrinkling his nose. “Nobody ate any of them because it was too weird to feel like you were biting into his head.” Because of this particular boy, the College now has an official rule that applicants hoping to get off the waitlist should not send any type of baked goods to the office of admission. “Especially not ones frosted with your own face,” Nesbitt said.

While the waitlisted students go to great lengths to distinguish themselves in a last-ditch effort to be able to call themselves an Eph, perhaps the greatest lengths to which anyone has gone to get admitted involved creating a false application. “We had this kid apply who was head boy, captain of everything, editor-in-chief of the newspaper, head of numerous international charities … you get the idea,” Nesbitt said. This applicant also claimed to have climbed most of the world’s major mountains on an income of less than $25,000. “I don’t think he realized that people don’t do that. You can’t just wake up one day, decide to climb Everest and go do it. There’s a lot of training and money involved in attempting major climbs like that,” Nesbitt said. In addition to Mount Everest, the student claimed to have summited five of the other tallest mountains in the world as well as some peaks that may or may not exist.

Similarly, and more crucially, this boy’s school seemed to be entirely fictional. “He certainly went to a lot of effort to hide it, though,” Nesbitt said. “He made a website for his made-up school and provided a phone number that you could call to talk to a fake representative. He also made official-looking school stationary.” Of course, this student was rejected. However, that did not seem to deter him. “We think he applied again this year,” Nesbitt said. “We got another very fishy applicant who even had the same last name.”

After talking to Nesbitt, I realized yet again how lucky we all are to have gotten into the College. There are kids who have done quite a lot – from manufacturing a fake school to folding hundreds of paper cranes to sending the admissions office cookies to having their parents yell at Dick Nesbitt personally – to obtain a letter of acceptance. But really, who can blame them? Being a student at the College comes with a lot of awesome privileges. As Nesbitt said, “Getting into Williams … That’s a big deal.”