What If You Get Waitlisted?

You’ve applied to your safety, target and reach colleges and waited. You received acceptance letters from one of your safety colleges and one of your target schools. The one college you’ve dreamt about for years put you on their waitlist. It was one of your reach schools because you didn’t quite have the academic credentials to make you a natural match. The good news here is that two colleges accepted you, and your dream school didn’t outright reject your application. Instead, it put you into college limbo, the dreaded waitlist. The bad news is that you’ve only got a slight chance to move from the waitlist to acceptance. According to National Association for College Admission Counseling, about 30 percent of students who are waitlisted finally get admitted. That means there’s a 70 percent chance that you will not get off that waitlist.

Waitlists are a college’s Plan B. Every college wants and needs a full freshman class starting in the fall. Financially, the college must keep its residence halls and classrooms full of students. So colleges accept a full roster of students, although the admission folks know that not all students will enroll at their college even if they were accepted. Some students will get a better financial aid package from another school. Other students might find their personal financial status has changed for the worse, putting college out of the picture for the present. Colleges must estimate their yield, or the number of accepted students who will actually enroll. When the estimate is short of the number of students the college needs for its next freshman class, the college will alert those on the waitlist, accepting enough to fill out the class.

Some colleges rank the students on the waitlist and others don’t. If a college ranks its waitlist, some students on the list will have a better chance of admittance than others. For the colleges that do not rank students on the waitlist, all have an equal chance.

If a college has notified you of your waitlist status, it will ask if you wish to remain on the waitlist. If you decide to move on and enroll in a school that has accepted you, then you’re out of waitlist limbo. If you accept the position on the waitlist, then you will have to wait until the college finds out exactly how many accepted students enroll and send in their deposits, usually on or around the first of May. Waitlisted students can expect to hear if they’ve been accepted sometime late in May, June, July or the latest, in August. Some students don’t hear until the week before classes start.

Once the enrollment numbers come in, the admissions folks turn to the waitlist and start going over waitlisted students’ applications once again. Because colleges in general will review applications for a second round, waitlisted students have the opportunity to better their chances of moving off the waitlist and into admitted, enrolled student heaven.

Some tactics for getting off the waitlist and into the school can definitely better your odds of being accepted. Other tactics will only annoy admission counselors and college personnel and bomb any chance you had of joining the freshman class. Here are some things you can do to improve your chances.

Waitlist Dos and Don’ts


Contact the Admissions Office

While you can ask why you were placed on the waitlist, admission counselors may or may not tell you. Some questions you can ask admissions if you’re waitlisted include:

  • What is the college’s waitlist history? How many students are usually waitlisted, and how many offered acceptance off the waitlist?
  • Is the waitlist ranked, and if so, where you are ranked on the list?
  • Are there major obstacles in your application to being accepted? Again, the admission office may or may not tell you. In fact, it’s unlikely that you’ll find out from admission people. Go over your own application materials again and see if there’s any holes, blunders or less than optimal grades or scores. Then fix the problem and send in the results.
  • If you are offered admission, will there be dorm room and financial aid available?

Communicate Your Continuing Interest and Commitment

Write a letter reaffirming your interest in the school and your intention of enrolling if you are accepted. Tell the school why you are a great match for them academically and socially. Admission officers are more likely to accept waitlisted students who say they will enroll if offered admittance, so if that is the case for you, be sure and let them know. Tell the college that it is your number one choice. Market yourself with a strong letter that emphasizes how well you will fit in at the school and how you can contribute to the college community. Making another visit to the college or asking to interview with admissions if you didn’t do it before are excellent ideas that convey your interest and commitment.

Send in Significant New Data

If you have new application data, you took the SAT again and got a higher score or your spring semester grades improved, then definitely send the data to the school. If you got a job or an internship or won an award or had a column printed in the newspaper, tell the college. Your purpose here is to let the admissions people know you a little better, to distinguish yourself from all the other students. Anything that can improve on your application materials can help get you off the waitlist and into the school.

Consult with Your Guidance Counselor

Get together with your high school guidance counselor for a strategy session. Perhaps he could write another recommendation letter to strengthen your case. Your guidance counselor may be able to learn why your application wasn’t accepted and how you could better your chances. At any rate, he will be able to offer good advice on how to handle the situation. Listen to him.


Be a Pest

Avoid gimmicks, bribes and constant telephone calls or emails. Making a video of yourself on your knees committing to love the college for the rest of your life puts you in the ridiculous pest category. Sending chocolates and flowers is a bad idea. Don’t be an annoyance. You want to charm them, not make them dread hearing from you again.

Let Your Parents Get Involved

Frantic parents calling admissions and threatening or begging can only harm your chances of getting admitted. Ask them nicely to stay out of it. It is your job to market yourself and make your case, not theirs. You don’t want to be a pest and you really don’t want your parents being pests either.

Send Non Pertinent Information

Resist the temptation to send the college information they already have. Admissions personnel don’t need to reread your essay or your transcript. All application materials have already been reviewed. In deciding which students, if anyone, are offered admittance off the waitlist, admission people give applications another review. Don’t blow your chances by sending in stuff that isn’t new and pertinent.

In summary, the odds are not good for waitlisted students. However, some tactics will improve your chances of moving off the waitlist and into the enrolled category, and others will wreck your chances. If you were accepted at another school, your best bet is to move on, enroll in that college and send in your deposit. Millions of students don’t get into their top choice of college and end up getting a great education and loving the college they do attend. You can too.

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