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 following caveats:

  • 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 effect.

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 both regions.

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 local opinions.

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.

[food chain -- 75 k or so]



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