What To Do When You’re Wait Listed

You’ve waited and waited for months for an admissions decision, only to find that you’re wait-listed at one of your top choice schools. How can you deal with this college decision purgatory?

First: Understand what what a wait list is, how it works, and what it means to be on one. This isn’t fun to hear, but it really is important to know that wait lists exist entirely for the benefit of the college, and not for the applicants. Colleges have wait lists because they have only so many spots for students in the incoming class, and they don’t want to “over enroll.” Every college has to admit more students than it has room to actually enroll because not all admitted students will enroll there. The college hopes, of course, that the number of students who do choose to enroll is exactly what the admissions office predicted, but sometimes the numbers come in slightly lower than expected. This is when the wait list becomes important to the college, as it can now make some offers of admission to bring the enrollment up to where it needs to be. Hence the wait list serving the college and not the applicants who are on it.

That said, being placed on a wait list absolutely means that you are qualified to be at that college. Period. It’s just that the college doesn’t have room for you yet. 

Second: If you are still very interested in the college, be sure to let the admissions office know you wish to remain on the wait list. Show the college your interest, but be careful not to harass the admissions office (as that may actually work against you). A nice email or a handwritten note is a smart idea. Explain why you would be a good fit for the school, and state that you are hopeful that you will be able to attend. If it’s the case that you would definitely enroll if admitted from the wait list, don’t be afraid to say so directly. Send the email or note yourself – don’t let your parents call or email the admission office on your behalf. You are the one on the wait list, not your parents.

If you have won any awards or made any notable progress in school since you applied, you can and should mention that to the college. You should appear very interested in the school, but not desperate.

Third: A wait list is far from a sure thing; you may be accepted, and you may not. It all depends on how many deposits the college receives from students who were admitted. After you’ve shown your strong interest in the wait list school, it is safest to consider it a rejection until you hear otherwise. In other words, plan for the worst, hope for the best, but make other plans!

Assuming you’ve been admitted at other colleges, decide among those schools where you will attend, and try to put the school where you are wait listed out of your mind. Visit those schools, and decide which one is the best fit for you. Read our blog on how to decide between multiple acceptances.

Do not wait to hear if you’re off the wait list before you pay a deposit at a school where you are accepted. More often than not, when a college is ready to make offers of admission from the wait list, it will happen after the May 1st deposit deadline (after other students have turned the school down). Pay a deposit somewhere you are already in, or you could lose your spot.

Fourth: If you do get admitted from the wait list, remember that you do deserve to be at that school; do not feel insecure or “less than” because you were initially wait listed. The college admission process is not perfect, and many qualified students get turned away because there is just so much competition. Once you’re off the wait-list, you’re accepted; no need to give it any more thought than that.

And if you don’t get off the wait-list? The school where you do end up will likely be where you belong anyway. Somehow, it usually works out that way.

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