Opus '98, the Wait List Food Chain
Copyright © 1998 DeLoggio Achievement Program. All rights
reserved. This notice supersedes our usual copyright
notice. No permission to reproduce this chart is granted
unless expressly given in writing by the author.
At wait list time, Harvard pulls from Columbia, Columbia pulls from NYU,
NYU pulls from Penn, etc, down to the lowest-ranked schools in a competitive
line. Because of the resemblance to big fish preying on smaller ones,
Dennis Shields (former Dean of Admissions at Duke) calls this "the food chain."
Despite its name, this chain isn’t linear. In fact it looks more like macramé than a linear chain. There are many variables, crossovers, and subloops.
Here are some of the hypotheses I’ve used to develop this system:
- All other things being equal, reputation (roughly equivalent to USNWR ranking)
drives the system. Of course, all other things are rarely equal.
- Regional preferences can overcome reputation. Thus Virginia may draw more
from Texas than from Northwestern. Even in a single geographic area, preferences
can overcome reputation. In New York, for instance, Cardozo, Brooklyn, and
NYLS (urban schools) may form one chain, while Hofstra and Pace (suburban
schools) form another.
- Cost can overcome reputation. This makes the food chain particularly convoluted
in states with good, low-cost public schools. Illinois may draw from
Northwestern, Berkeley may draw from Stanford, and UNC may draw from Duke
among the state residents accepted at these schools. When a public
school is low-cost even for nonresidents, it will draw from other schools
of a slightly higher rank (like UNC and Wake Forest) more than it will from
much-higher-ranked schools (like UNC and Duke).
- Public schools with national reputations fit in two different places -- the
one dictated by their national ranking, and the one at their appropriate
place in the local system.
- Special interest schools -- such as Regent, Brigham Young, and the Puerto
Rican schools -- are generally isolated from the food chain. The same is
true of geographically isolated state schools, such as North and South Dakota,
Wyoming, and Hawaii.
Based on those hypotheses, I have created a picture of the entire wait list
food chain. Before I show it to you, though, I want you to read the
- The schematic is entirely the result of my own ratiocination. It is based
on intuition and anecdotal evidence. Descartes would be proud, but you should be cautious.
- This picture reflects the national food chain for private schools
and non-resident applicants to state schools. Residents of a particular state
may find this image useless in predicting activity on the resident or local
applicant pool wait list.
- Finally, you may be wondering, “Of what use is this cute but complicated
picture?” The answer is, if you learn what a school further up the food chain
is doing, you can better predict what will happen at your school. By looking
at reports of who’s pulling from their wait lists and dates of seat deposits,
you can get an idea of what to expect in your own case.
Here's how to read the Wait List Food Chain:
Schools are placed vertically by reputation, and from left to right
geographically. To follow the food chain, start anyplace. Higher schools
in the same color draw from your school; lower ones are the schools from
which your starting school draws. Schools on the same line and in the
same color draw from each other more or less equally, canceling out any net
Changes of color reflect regional subloops, simply to make the chart a bit
easier to read. Schools have no particular relationship to the surrounding
schools in a different color. A school name in two colors will pull from
I have made an enormous effort to keep schools of the same national ranking
on the same horizontal line, but these rankings will vary in regional and
PLEASE do not contact me to ask how to read this chart or to argue with placement
based on your personal opinion or this year's US News ranking. If you really must discuss this, try one of the message boards; I'm
sure someone there will be glad to talk about it.