WUSTL… or banking too much on Ferguson to get in

After multiple emails to the physics department at Washington University in St. Louis, I finally know my fate at that school: waitlisted. This is the contents of the email that allows me to draw that conclusion:

Dear Yvan Ung,

The first round of offers went out a couple of weeks ago. While we have asked the students to reply by March 20th they have until April 15th before we consider them not coming.
Your name is on the list of second round offers. That said we have so few spots open this year I am not sure we will get to the second round.

 

It does sound like a waitlist. Looking back, while my research-based recommenders had connections at that school (Mark Alford and Carl Bender) they were not as strong as, say, Mark Trodden or Justin Khoury vis-à-vis UPenn and hence they would not be as helpful. But the primary thing is that I banked a lot on Ferguson to get in, and still do since my only hope for me to get in off the waitlist would be to hope for a low yield. For a school that historically had an entering class of about 15 (82 graduate students, and suppose a few drop out, and average time-to-degree is about 6 years) I would estimate the number of spots available to about 6-8. Now, for Ferguson. As I said earlier, some students would be deterred from applying to WUSTL because of the riots. But some other students would think that, because of the riots, there is less competition, the void is partially filled. I do not think it is filled completely, hence why I seemingly bank so much on the Ferguson riots. However, even though the Los Angeles riots of 1992 are, in some ways, similar to the Ferguson riots, I would say that the impact it might have had on applications to, say, USC or then-highly-protectionistic UCLA would be rather different because they are more distant to application season than the Ferguson riots were towards WUSTL and Saint Louis University. The Los Angeles riots of 1992 may have resulted in less people accepting spots on the waitlists for USC or UCLA, or some last-minute withdrawals, but any effect on the applicant pool would be mitigated by its distance to application season.
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