May 1st is National Decision Day, a day celebrating the final day for high seniors who applied to college to make their final decision regarding which college they will attend in the fall. It’s an exciting time for many students, but depending on your acceptance status, it may pose a difficult challenge. In today’s day and age, most students apply to numerous colleges, some to as many as 20. Ultimately, this helps a student by offering plenty of options, but it also makes the admissions process highly competitive. This year, we’ve seen record breaking numbers in the amount of applicants to the nation’s top schools and the Ivy Leagues. This means that merit-based aid has become increasingly difficult to acquire, and if you are on a waitlist by National Decision Day, you might have to jump through a few hoops before making your final decision.

Colleges and universities use waitlists as a safety-net against tough-to-predict yield rates. With more schools dropping their early admissions processes and students applying to numerous colleges, higher education institutions implement waitlists as a way to secure a high enough level of admittance for the fall. While typically there is some clarity in regards to predicting the number of students admitted from the waitlist (The National Association of College Admission Counseling states that an average of 30% are ultimately accepted,) the higher numbers of applicants have made pinpointing that percentage an even more unpredictable science. This is of course not including some of the upcoming challenges potential waitlisted students of the class of 2017 may face with some of the recent Prior-Prior Year changes coming in October of 2016. This is indeed a dynamic and challenging time for college admissions.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into what waitlisted students may have to face in the upcoming years. As was previously stated, May 1st is the last day for accepted students to agree to attend their university or college of choice. By May 2nd, schools will begin to review their waitlisted students to fill the left-over spots. Waitlisted students will unfortunately be faced with the reality that their position has left them with the short-end of the stick when it comes to financial aid. By this point, most merit-based scholarships have been awarded, federal grants have been distributed, and there is no chance for a student to appeal his or her financial aid award. After all is said and done, waitlisted students will most likely be paying full sticker price for their college.

While at a disadvantage, there are still a few options left for students who have decided to stick it out and stay on the waitlist. I strongly suggest that these students make an effort to review their waitlisted email or letter for indications of their placement on the waitlist. Look for a rank and also a percentage of last year’s accepted waitlisted students. If it’s not on the letter or email, it is perfectly acceptable to call the admissions office and ask if there is a priority list or if the list is ranked. Students need to ask where they are placed on this and, perhaps more importantly, what the financial aid limitation is for students admitted from the waitlist. If you are willing to make the effort, you may be seeing a bright future ahead—at a more affordable cost.