The notoriously maddening college admissions race just got a little easier for one group of students -- those on waiting lists.

Once dubbed the place where students’ dreams go to die, waitlists are opening up as schools contend with the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

Faced with the prospect of bulging deficits, tuition shortfalls and uncertainty as to how many students will enroll this fall, U.S. colleges and universities are tapping into their bench of prospective students to ensure their classes, and ideally classrooms and dorms, are full.

“I’ve been doing this for 31 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Matthew DeGreeff, dean of college counseling at the Middlesex School, a private school in Concord, Massachusetts. “It’s been the most unprecedented year with waitlists.”

Almost one-fifth of the school’s graduating class of about 100 students received 29 offers from waitlists, some more than one, he said.

At Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, more than 100 additional students were accepted from the waitlist compared to last year in anticipation that students would defer or cancel their enrollment, according to a spokesman.

The change is further evidence of the unprecedented financial pressures schools are facing in the wake of the pandemic. Some universities are forecasting budget deficits given the prospect of shortfalls from tuition and room and board.

When schools were flush, getting off the waiting list was as hard as landing a job at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Only about 7% of those accepted from those lists at selective colleges were admitted, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Overall, colleges admitted an average of 20% of all those remaining on such lists, the group said.

College counselors began to see signs of a change earlier this year. Waitlist offers that were traditionally made after May 1 and into the summer came as early as April, said Ginger Fay, a director at Applerouth Tutoring Services, who has worked for 25 years in the admissions field, including at Duke.

In some cases, this change is giving them an unexpected opportunity to upgrade to a better college.

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