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    College Waitlist: What Students Need to Know

    By Emily Wong

    Emily Wong is a writer at Scholarships360. She’s worked as a social media manager and a content writer at several different startups, where she covered various topics including business, tech, job recruitment, and education. Emily grew up and went to school in the Chicago suburbs, where she studied economics and journalism at Northwestern University.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: March 11th, 2024
    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? So, 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: 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 every day for a letter from the college. Let’s go over some simple steps to take after getting a waitlist decision.


    Getting waitlisted doesnt mean you just have to sit and wait. Check out our full article on letters of continued interest at #scholarships360 #scholarship #education #student #college #decision #waitlist #letterofcontinuedinterest

    ♬ night fade – Like Saturn

    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. 

    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. 

    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.

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • The waitlist is a tool that colleges use to ensure that they have a pool of backup candidates, should any students deny their acceptance
    • There’s no way to know for sure where you sit on a waitlist, the best thing you can do is notify a school about whether you intend to accept your spot and review your application to see if you can make it any stronger
    • It is possible to maintain a spot on a waitlist, while also placing a deposit at another school, in this case you know that whether you get off the waitlist or not, you will have at least one other school that you will be able to attend
    • Finally, don’t forget that you do not have to accept your spot on a waitlist just because it was offered to you, you can say no to being offered a spot on a waitlist

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    Frequently asked questions about what a college waitlist is

    Does being waitlisted mean you are accepted?

    Unfortunately, being put on a waitlist is more of a maybe than anything else. Being on a waitlist does not mean you are accepted, but it also is not an official rejection. It’s difficult to sit in limbo not knowing if you will be officially accepted. You have to decide for yourself if you want to wait and see if you will be accepted, or pass and move on to another school. 

    How likely is it to get accepted after being waitlisted?

    Because the number of applications a college gets can change every year, the percentage of students who are accepted off of a waitlist can also change each year. Unfortunately, there’s no real way of knowing how likely it is that you will get off the waitlist. Because the waitlist is unpredictable, placing a deposit at another school is not a bad idea.

    Is waitlisted better than rejected?

    Being waitlisted is not an official no from a school. So, if you received a letter saying you’ve been waitlisted, it means that you still could have a shot at attending that school. However, as we have said before, there are no guarantees that you will get off of the waitlist. So, it’s up to you to decide about how you feel about being waitlisted.

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