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College Waitlist: What Students Need to Know

One of the hardest parts of the college application process is facing rejection. However, it can be just as difficult to get waitlisted, which happens to 20% of all students. Getting offered a spot on the waitlist can be a frustrating in-between that’ll leave you with a million questions. What does waitlisted mean in the first place? Should you always accept a spot? Is there any way to improve your chances of getting accepted from the waitlist? Let’s talk about all of these questions and more.

What is the college waitlist?

When making decisions in the college application process, the admissions committee has a specific goal in mind. They want to fill their class with a qualified, well-rounded group of students. The college waitlist allows the admissions committee a pool of back-up candidates in case they don’t get enough accepted students to attend.

The admissions team knows that students on the waitlist would be just as successful as those who were accepted. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough room for all of them. If you get offered a spot on the waitlist, it means that while you haven’t been accepted, the school will keep you in mind in case a spot opens up.

Who gets off the waitlist first?

Knowing how close you are to being accepted would make your decision to stay on the waitlist much easier. However, most institutions don’t have a ranking system for choosing from the waitlist. Instead, in their efforts to build a balanced class, they often base their decision on other students’ decisions.

For example, they may need to admit more students in a particular school or major. Other factors like geographical diversity or gender may also play a part. Therefore, it’s nearly impossible to estimate how high up you are on the priority list.

What to do if you’re waitlisted

Being waitlisted is a much easier pill to swallow when you have a plan mapped out. That way, you can avoid being stuck in an endless loop of checking your email everyday for a letter from the college. Let’s go over some simple steps to take after getting a waitlist decision.

Decide whether or not to accept a spot on the waitlist

When you’re offered a spot on the waitlist of a college you wanted to attend, it can feel like a no-brainer to accept. After all, why would you pass up an opportunity to get into your dream school? However, now is the time to take a second look at your options.

Attend more information sessions or talk to current students. If there’s any information you think you’re missing, such as academic programs or financial aid, seek it out now. If it helps, you can even make a pro/con list of each school to figure out where they stand. Is the school that waitlisted you still your first choice? If not, decline the offer.

Otherwise, feel free to accept, but acknowledge that the chances of getting off the waitlist are often quite low. Therefore, try to decide on a few other schools that you could see yourself attending if it doesn’t work out.

Maintain open communication with the admissions office

If you’ve decided to accept a spot on the waitlist, let the admissions committee know right away. Oftentimes, the decision letter will outline instructions for you to secure your spot.

On top of that, consider writing an email or letter to express your interest in the school and your desire to attend if admitted. You can also use this as an opportunity to update them on any recent achievements that may sway their decision.

For more help, check out How To Write a Letter of Continued Interest.

Submit a deposit to another school

Once you’ve accepted a spot on the waitlist, submit your deposit to your second choice school. Even if you’re admitted off the waitlisted, you most likely won’t find out until after the May 1st deadline. Therefore, if you hold out hope for an acceptance that doesn’t come, you may be unable to attend college anywhere in the fall.

If you end up accepting an offer from the school that waitlisted you, you’ll probably lose your original deposit. This expense can get pretty steep, ranging from $100 to $1000, depending on the institution. However, it’s often worth it to attend your first-choice college. After all, it’s much cheaper than the cost of tuition for four years.

How to improve your chances of getting off the waitlist

As previously mentioned, you can’t predict the order that applicants will be chosen off the waitlist. In the end, it mainly depends on which students end up turning down their acceptances. However, you can put yourself in a more favorable position by presenting yourself as a top candidate.

In addition to writing a letter of continued interest, you can also take some steps to improve your application. For example, if you think your standardized test scores are holding you back, you can consider retaking the ACT or SAT. Additionally, if you haven’t visited the campus yet, consider scheduling a visit in the near future. Not only can you demonstrate your interest, but you can also learn more about what it’d be like to attend the school.

However, before taking steps to improve your application, make sure that you have extra time to do so. The waitlist is uncertain even for the most qualified candidates. Therefore, you don’t want your efforts to interfere with your grades, AP tests or your enjoyment of senior year.

Final thoughts

If you’re waitlisted, it’s easy to spiral into an obsession with getting accepted. However, for your peace of mind, it’s often better to treat the decision as a rejection. If you’re still interested in attending, accept a spot, write a letter of continued interest and keep your grades up. Then, direct your focus toward the schools that accepted you. Good luck!

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