What to Do if You're Waitlisted
Boost Your Chances of Getting Off the Waitlist.
You’ve sent in your applications. Now you’re waiting for a letter from each college you applied to, a letter telling you that you’re accepted as a student or that your application for admission is declined. There’s another possibility. A college may put you on a waitlist.
This can happen when you meet the admissions requirements, but the college has already accepted the number of applicants it has room for. If a spot becomes available later on, you may be offered a place.
The college won’t make you this offer, however, until after the May 1 decision deadline has passed. If you’re on the waitlist, it’s hard to know what your chances of acceptance are.
Decide Whether to Stay on the List.
Your next step is to respond and let the college know whether or not you want to stay on the waitlist. It makes sense to keep your spot on the list only if you’re really interested in going to the college.
Before you decide, find out whether there are any conditions attached to being waitlisted. For example, because you’re notified later than other applicants, you may have fewer housing and financial aid options.
Even if you decide to remain on the waitlist, prepare to attend another college. Choose the best fit from the colleges that accepted you, fill out the paperwork, and send a deposit. You’ll forfeit this deposit if the college that waitlisted you offers you a place and you accept. Still, you need to be sure you have a place in an incoming first-year class next fall.
Take Control of the Waitlist Process.
If you decide to stay on the waitlist, take the initiative. Here’s what you can do to boost your chances of being accepted.
Get a sense of your chances of admission.
Contact the admissions office or check the college’s website to find out if the college ranks waitlisted students or if it has a priority list. Most are willing to let you know your status. The higher you rank on the list, the better your chances are of being accepted.
Write a letter to the admissions office.
The college has already decided that you have the academic credentials for admittance. Now’s the time to mention any additional academic or nonacademic factors that might help your case—any new achievements or supplemental information. Emphasize your strong desire and continued interest to attend the college. Make a case for why you're a good fit. You can tell them that you'll enroll if they accept you but only if you're absolutely certain you will enroll.
This is no time to slack off. If you're waitlisted, you may be reevaluated based on your third- and fourth-quarter grades.
Show admissions officers you're committed to sports, clubs, and other activities. Realize that you've already achieved something.
You were waitlisted, not turned away. Many students weren’t as successful. Reconsider the colleges that accepted you.
If you’d be just as happy at one of your other choices, send in a deposit. Plan to attend that college. Then turn down the spot on the waiting list. You'll be surprised how much better you feel after your decision has been made.
How likely is it to get accepted from the waitlist?
Colleges admit about 20% of students who choose to remain on waitlists, according to a 2019 report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Keep in mind that these numbers will vary based on the college waitlisting you. With prestigious, harder-to-get-in schools, the numbers can be much lower. For other colleges, it can be much higher.
That’s why it’s important to take charge and follow the steps detailed in this article. You should also prepare for the likelihood of attending another college that accepted you by filling out the paperwork and sending in your deposit.
How long does it take to get off the waitlist?
Waitlisted applicants can expect to hear back from the college that waitlisted them after the May 1 deadline for high school seniors to submit their college applications. For some students, the wait time may stretch well into the summer, shortly before fall classes are due to start.
How do colleges decide who gets off the waitlist?
It’s hard to crack each individual college’s method for deciding which students get off the waitlist. Contact the admissions office or check the college’s website to find out if the college ranks waitlisted students or if it has a priority list. If you rank higher, you'll have a greater chance of getting off the waitlist.
But some colleges may neither rank waitlisted students nor accept them by priority. Individual colleges may take a more holistic approach. They may make their decision based on factors such as which majors they want represented.
Why do colleges use a waitlist?
Colleges have a limited number of spots available each year and a degree of uncertainty about how many students who got accepted will actually attend. If a significant number of students that a college accepts also got acceptance offers from other colleges, the college has no way of knowing for sure how many accepted students will choose them.
The waitlist helps colleges keep students on reserve. Once available slots fill up, and students start declining acceptance offers, the college admissions committee can begin moving on to the waitlisted students.
What does accepting a waitlist offer mean?
Accepting a waitlist offer means that you decided to accept a spot on the college’s waitlist. Before you decide, find out whether there are any conditions attached to being waitlisted. For example, because you’re notified later than other applicants, you may have fewer housing and financial aid options.
Keep in mind that college waitlist offers aren’t binding. You won’t be required to attend the college if they accept you from the waitlist.